Friday, April 13, 2007

Linear and Painterly Styles (Wolfflin)

Venus and Adonis, Titian, late 1560s (on the left)

Venus and Adonis, Rubens, after 1635 (on the right)

Heinrich Wolfflin was a 19th Century art historian whose work on the styles of Renaissance and Baroque painters uncovered tendencies which help us to make sense of the style and composition of a wide variety of paintings, both from these eras and from others. His approach is to define by way of comparison and contrast a handful of compositional devices which help us to make better visual sense of the works.

These two paintings give us two images of the same scene. Poor Venus (Aphrodite) has fallen in love with a young chump (Adonis) who is awfully good looking, but would rather hunt than make love. He is about to die in a hunting accident. Venus is unable to persuade him to stay.

Titian, on the left, is a painter of the late Renaissance. His linear technique emphasizes boundaries with definite lines and clear distinctions. Figures are lit like pieces in a museum.

Rubens, on the right, is a painter of the Baroque period. His painterly technique joins figures together with softer contours and brushtrokes.