Paolo Uccello, The Hunt in the Forest, c1470
26 x 65 in.
Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) was an Italian painter, as well as a mathematician, and a major figure in the Italian Renaissance. He is known for his innovative use of perspective and depth to illustrate narratives. Born in Pratovecchio, Tuscany as Paolo di Dono, his father was a barber-surgeon and his mother was a high-born Florentine. His nickname of Uccello was due to his fondness for painting birds. At age ten he was apprenticed to the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose workshop was the center of Florentine art in the early fifteenth century. Ghiberti's work had a great influence on Uccello and he remained with the master until about 1420. At some point during his apprenticeship Uccello formed a lifelong friendship with Donatello. Uccello became a member of the painters' guild and was a respected member of the developing art world in Florence. Uccello's best known work is the famous triptych of The Battle of San Romano (1, 2, 3). Painted between 1435 and 1460, the three panels show extremely advanced understanding of perspective and depth, communicating the recession of space and the overlap of figures and objects. Elements like the crossing of spears and horses' legs, dense crowds, and clearly delineated foreground, middleground, and background all demonstrate Uccello's skill and vision. Such techniques were incredibly advanced at the time. We can see the same explorations in other celebrated works by Uccello. The Hunt in the Forest is one of Uccello's later works and we can see a mature expression of these techniques. The scene is densely populated, but each element is placed carefully in the composition. The piece has a clear shape, with horses grouped on the edges and a triangular group of dogs that extends into the forest. The painting has a remarkable expression of the recession of space; the dogs recede into the darkness, the point of their phalanx lining up with the painting's vanishing point. The overlap of objects gives Uccello's work an unprecedented realism, as people and animals cross both in front of and behind the trees. Uccello favored bright colors throughout his work, and here the bright reds stand out powerfully against the dark greens and blacks of the forest. While Uccello left behind no school of students or followers, the influence of his work has been vast and he continues to exert a powerful impact over artists and viewers today.
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