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Ocean Critchley-Clark
Upper Sixth
Oakeley's House

Art Department Chapel week

Art Department Chapel week

Day 1

On Tuesday 15th November, Lowri Edwards and Abbi Waycott began the Art Department Chapel week by reading a speech written by the Head of Department, Alan Wilkie.

The speech informs us that Art did not used to refer to the manual acts of painting and sculpting. For a painting to be labelled as Art the intelligence behind the work had to be evident. It was the term used for the intellectual pursuits, “The Seven Liberal Arts” — namely grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, logic, music and astronomy. We are then informed how these are all personified — by a female figure who were thought to be the daughters of Philosophy. Women were used to present the opposite of manual labour tasks for which men are used to illustrate. Painting was only admitted as a liberal art in the Early Renaissance, around 1400.

Each liberal art is represented with the appropriate attributes (hand-outs were placed around the Chapel with depictions of each liberal art), for example Geometry is a woman who holds a compass and measures the globe and Astronomy is a winged woman holding a celestial globe with a sextant.

We then hear about Cesare Ripa (c.1560–c.1622) who was an Italian aesthetician. Not much is known about his life except that he was born in Perugia and died in Rome. He was knighted after his highly successful book called “Iconologia”, which he wrote in his free time, was published.

The “Iconologia” was, and still is, a highly influential emblem book based on Egyptian, Greek and Roman emblematical representations, it was used by orators, preachers and poets –and later by artists — to give substance to qualities such as virtues, vices, emotions, passions, science and art. The book contained a verbal description of allegorical figures proposed by Ripa to embody the concept, giving the type and color of its clothing and its symbolic paraphernalias, along with the reasons why these were chosen. The first edition of this book was published in 1593. What Ripa presented to the public seems strange now, but at the time they represented a common language.

An example of one of the allegories in Ripa’s book is envy, which is personified as an ugly, elderly woman who is half nude and sits before a cave. She is shown with snakes for hair and exposing her breasts. In her left hand she holds a human heart to her mouth and eats it whilst a hungry looking dog watches her. All of these things have specific symbolism — she is ugly and old because envy is the great enemy of all virtue which is beautiful. The snakes on her head represent the evil thoughts of envy which spread poison and her continual envy of others causes her heart an eternal disquiet and she consumes herself in the envy of others.

The prayer was then beautifully read by Flo Moore.

This Chapel talk gave me interesting insights into an aspect of art and art history that I may not have come across otherwise, I think that it was of interest to everyone and shed some light on ways in which art is more than the spreading of coloured pastes on canvas — I am very excited to hear the rest of the week.

Day 2

On the second day of the art chapel week, a speech written by Helen Skatun continues to inform us about the art world.

In the speech read by Milla Jupp and Estere Kajema we hear about Ernst Gombrich who wrote one of the most popular art books of all time, “The Story of Art” — which I greatly recommend for anyone with an interest in the history of art, with his easy writing style and interesting insights it’s a brilliant book which can hardly be flawed. In particular, we hear why we should believe his idea that “there is no such thing as art, there are only artists”.

This is backed up in the talk by examples of when the artist becomes more important than the work they produce, from the seemingly smallest things such as letting the artist sign their name (the example used is Ambrogio Lorenzetti being permitted to sign the large fresco, “Good Government”, painted for the town hall near Sienna; to the time of Bernini who was knighted at the young and impressive age of 23 and being given the greatest compliment of all artists, “Your luck is great to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini Pope, Cavalier, but ours is much greater to have Cavalier Bernini alive in our pontificate” said Cardinal Maffeo Barberini.

The Chapel ends with a note on how the status of the artist was elevated by the rise of the art academies — illustrated in an example by Zoffany, “Academicians of the Royal Academy” in 1771.

I found this to be a persuasive chapel talk on why we should believe Gombrich’s statement, it was a gripping insight and aided by the presentation of large photographs to the whole Chapel by Isis and Imogen.

The Chapel talk was concluded by a beautiful prayer written and read by Estere.

5 December 2011

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