Narrative time in the visual arts
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Narrative Time in the Visual Arts. Let’s reiterate :. A narrative is an organization of the events in a story. Let’s repeat:. Time in any narrative medium may be expressed: Through sequencing of events (we assume that an event which follows is caused by the previous event)

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Narrative Time in the Visual Arts

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Narrative time in the visual arts

Narrative Time in the Visual Arts


Let s reiterate

Let’s reiterate :

  • A narrative is an organization of the events in a story


Let s repeat

Let’s repeat:

  • Time in any narrative medium may be expressed:

    • Through sequencing of events (we assume that an event which follows is caused by the previous event)

    • Through elisions and omissions (we don’t include everything in our stories)

    • Through explicit and implicit references (would a nineteenth century novel include references to Coke?)


Narrative in the visual arts

Narrative in the visual arts

  • One representation of one event

  • One representation of a series of events in chronological and linear order

  • One representation of a series of events in non-chronological but linear order

  • One representation of a series of events presented in one frame or composite item

  • A series of representations of a series of events


Already we have a problem

Already we have a problem:

What constitutes one representation?


One artwork representation of one event

One artwork/representation of one event

  • Seems least complicated and most obvious

  • What do we mean by one event?

  • What do we mean by one artwork?

  • 5 Examples: Nighthawks, Rouen Cathedral, The Third of May 1808, Arhat giving alms, The Holy Trinity


Edward hopper nighthawks 1942

Edward Hopper, NightHawks (1942)

  • One painting captures one moment in a café

  • Use of color and space to depict mood and isolation

  • ‘Real’ time captures emotions outside of time or in eternal time


Claude monet rouen cathedral the portal in sun 1894

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, The Portal (in sun), 1894

  • About 40 views of Rouen at different times of day

  • Time as a fleeting moment captured in a series of paintings

  • Reality of our own sensations, subjective response to color and light

  • What is the event?

  • What do we consider a series? Is this one in a series?


Francisco goya the third of may 1808 1814

Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808, 1814

  • One painting capturing one historical event

  • Napoleon’s intervention in Spain

  • Faces only of victims, lighting not naturalistic, distortion of bodies

  • Most emotionally vivid moment in event

  • Thematic contrasts between civilians & French soldiers and between humans without power and those with (the church/ Napoleon’s troops)

  • Thematic contrasts reflected in light and dark contrasts


Zhou jichang arhat boddhisattvas giving alms southern sung dynasty 1184

Zhou Jichang, Arhat (Boddhisattvas) Giving Alms, Southern Sung Dynasty, 1184

  • No linear/aerial perspective

  • One scene on top of another: bands of simultaneous activity

  • Size and color express importance

  • Multiple POVs

  • Patterned landscape and detailed humans


Massacio the holy trinity early renaissance

Massacio, The Holy Trinity, Early Renaissance

  • One painting and one event (sort of)

  • Trinity (God, Jesus Christ, Dove of Holy Ghost) = outside of time

  • Virgin Mary and Saint John = Biblical figures

  • Donors kneeling = early Renaissance figures

  • Figures form a mixture of time periods in a precise architectural setting

  • Skeleton of Adam (I was once what you are, and what I am you will become)

  • Elision of time periods


One representation of a series of events in chronological and linear order

One representation of a series of events in chronological and linear order

  • Potentially least interesting approach

  • Is linear always left to right? And why pick that direction?

  • Chicken and egg problem: how do we determine accurate chronology?

  • 5 Examples: Bayeux Tapestry, Dionysiac Mystery frieze, Olowe of Ise doors, Muybridge’s photographs, Window of Abbey Church of St. Denis


E muybridge handspring 1887

E. Muybridge, Handspring, (1887)

  • Precursor to film

  • Breaks down movement of body into parts

  • Motion is one unit, but art is a series of events


Bayeux tapestry 1070 1080

Bayeux Tapestry, 1070-1080

  • Norman defeat of Anglo-Saxons at Hastings, 1066

  • Tapestry

  • Continuous frieze approach

  • Direction of reading?

  • Historical details and accuracy


Dionysiac mystery frieze

Dionysiac Mystery Frieze

  • Wall murals read around the room

  • Villa of the Mysteries

  • Rites associated with Dionysiac initiation, but how do we know this?

  • Function of room? Public or private?


Olowe of ise door of king s palace at ikere yoruba nigeria c 1910

Olowe of Ise, Door of King’s Palace at Ikere, Yoruba, Nigeria, c. 1910

  • 2 panels wooden door on king’s palace

  • Records the visit of a colonial officer to the Ikere King in 1897

  • Note use of panels to depict status and events

  • Historical record represents complex history


Window abbey church of st denis 1140 44

Window, Abbey Church of St. Denis, 1140-44

  • Reading from bottom to top toward God

  • But each window a complex narrative (compare with examples D)


One representation of a series of events in non chronological but linear order

One representation of a series of events in non-chronological but linear order

  • Visual time-shifts, so can juxtapose important images

  • How do we determine chronological order?

  • Previous examples might better fit here

  • 3 Examples: Trajan’s column, Tribute Money, Sistine Chapel


Trajan s column

Trajan’s Column

  • Continuous spiral / narrative frieze

  • About 150 episodes from Trajan’s successful campaign against the Dacians

  • Ancient illustrated scrolls vs. Parthenon frieze and triumphal arches

  • Read from bottom to top?

  • Not reliable chronological record


Masaccio tribute money 1427

Masaccio, Tribute Money, 1427

  • Brancacci Chapel

  • 3 episodes in the story

  • Ancient (Christ & Disciples) vs. Renaissance (taxman)

  • Reading right to left:

    first – middle of story

    second – beginning of story

    third – end of story


Michelangelo ceiling main vaults sistine chapel 1508 1512

Michelangelo, Ceiling (main vaults), Sistine Chapel, 1508 -1512

  • Above altar is the story of creation of light and dark

  • Above entrance = drunkenness of Noah

  • Enter at end of story and, as we get closer to altar/God, closer to the beginning of the story


A series of events presented in one frame or one composite item

A series of events presented in one frame or one composite item

  • No explicit sequencing

  • Events meant to be read together

  • 3 Examples: sacrifice of Isaac on Ghiberti’s Doors in Florence, Apse mosaics from Saint’ Apollinare in Classe, Prima Porta Augustae


Lorenzo ghiberti sacrifice of isaac east doors florence baptistery 1425 1452

Lorenzo Ghiberti, sacrifice of Isaac, east doors, Florence Baptistery, 1425-1452

  • Medieval narrative impulse/ Renaissance technology

  • Unified by architecture and illusion of space

  • Several episodes presented together

    • Birth of Esau and Jacob

    • Isaac sends Esau on mission

    • Isaac blesses kneeling Jacob


Apse mosaic from saint apollinare in classe c 549 ce

Apse mosaic from Saint’Apollinare in Classe, c. 549 CE

  • Imagery suggests numerous stories

    • Transfiguration of Christ

    • Transfiguration of his martyrs

    • Transfiguration of Saint Apollinaris

  • Placement of mosaics and bones of the saint important

  • Cross of Constantine, 12 sheep, triumphal arch to altar


Portrait of augustus from primaporta copy of bronze original c 20 bce

Portrait of Augustus from Primaporta, copy of bronze original c. 20 BCE

  • Idealized Portrait

  • Augustus’ story on breastplate

  • Historical events

    • Parthian standards restored

  • Mythical events

    • Cupid/Venus/Aeneas/

    • Julio-Claudian descent

  • Conflation of myth and legend


A series of representations of a series of events

A series of representations of a series of events

  • This will be explored in greater detail in a later section

  • Example: Ara Pacis Augustae (the Altar of Augustan Peace/Pacification)


Ara pacis augustae 13 9 bce

Ara Pacis Augustae, 13- 9 BCE

  • Multiple panels that “talk” to each other

  • Legend/historical events

    • Augustus’ campaign success

  • Religious and political events

    • sacrificial processional w/Augustus vs. sacrifice of Aeneas

  • Roman vs. non-Romans

  • Compare with the Vietnam War Memorial


Here the narrative

Here the narrative

ends


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