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Narrative Time in the Visual Arts

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  1. Narrative Time in the Visual Arts

  2. Let’s reiterate : • A narrative is an organization of the events in a story

  3. 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?)

  4. 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

  5. Already we have a problem: What constitutes one representation?

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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?

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. Bayeux Tapestry, 1070-1080 • Norman defeat of Anglo-Saxons at Hastings, 1066 • Tapestry • Continuous frieze approach • Direction of reading? • Historical details and accuracy

  15. 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?

  16. 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

  17. 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)

  18. 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

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. 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

  26. 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)

  27. 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

  28. Here the narrative ends