By Philip Davydov
When I asked my Rennaissance Art History professor a question how should painter merry images with architectural forms, he answered, that all our visual culture started in ancient Greece and Crete. That means if we want to understand basic concepts of relationship between architectural form and image on it, we should study the artworks, created in this historical period, because that ancient greek painted ceramic and murals are the earliest pieces of our european visual culture. They are first works of visual art in our understanding of this term.
And when we begin to analyze these ancient vases, it becomes clear, that the attitude of painter to the vase form as his painting surface was changing with time. As we can see on the earliest vases of Crete-Minoan period, the painter does not really take care about the concepts of physical form of the vase. We can say, that the image is rather floating on the surface, it is absolutely free on it. So, the beautiful squid on the images above are placed on the center of the visual field, but it is not strictly related to the vase form. We can say, that as it is, it might be painted in the same way on any other ceramic surface, nothing would change. We see, that the image absolutely does not interact with the vase form, it is autonomous as a beautiful abstract painting on an abstract ceramic surface.
The painter, who painted the squid on the first our beautiful ceramic jar did not wish to make it become this concrete vase decoration. As many our contemporary artists, he enjoyed the painting itself and he had no idea, if he should interact with the concrete architectural form, he works on. The same A-tectonic (non tectonic) approach had the minoan wural painters (see the bottom of this page)
Later period ceramic (top right) is gradually changing, as painters studied the specific features of their work. The photo on the right show how their images began to collaborate with the form. We see the herbs and flowers on the jar, which seem to be embracing the surface. Yet, they do not belong totally to the surface, they just float nearby, and this is already a great step forward.
The painters seem to sense now the real form and dimensions of the vases, kylicks and kantharos (cups). We may call these vases still archaic in decoration, but this is the beginning of bi dimensionality, of collaboration between image and architecture.
Later again we have other type pottery, produced mostly in continental Greece. As we can see on the photographs, these vases the painted with decorative ornaments and figurative images, which all are realized in absolute accordance with the physical form of the vase. The ornaments are mostly used on the neck and bottom to underline us material form and tectonic tension of these parts. So, they visually evidence the architectural structure of the vase. The large central part of this period vases is usually decorated with figurative images. So, being flat and inexpressive all by itself, the central part hosts expressive images of human figures, animals, birds and even complicated scenes. The painted decoration for these vases is a natural part of vase-creation process, because in total harmony with the form, it adds expression and beauty to them.
This architectural approach is characteristic not just for the ancient greek vases, but also for all the medieval european visual art, where the craftsmen did not create autonomous images. It was normal then not to struggle with the architecture of their visual field, but to make painting real part of it, in other words to obey the architectural laws in painted images.
Due to the heredity of Renaissance time, the first type approach to the visual field is more characteristic for the maggiority of our contemporary artists. Giotto and his followers began to create the illusion of third dimension in their pictures. But we should also remember, that it was a period, when painting began to become secular work. So, it is logical, that Leonardo, Rafael, Michelangelo and other artists of that time, painting Christ, Holy Mary and saints, did not intend to create their sacred images, but rather hypothetic realistic portraits of them. It was a global process of de-sacralization of the images in the Western Christian church. It brought people to the point, where absolutely any image is now comprehended in Europe as just a picture, kind of visual information.
Traditional icons and frescoes belong to another type art. Sacred images have to be special, that is caused by their special task to represent heavenly concepts in earth materials, - wooden board, pigments and so forth. Sacred images do not tell us exactly about Christ, Holy Mary, Saints and sacred events, they just give us an idea of how Christ, Holy Virgin or saints might look like, Transfigured in the Kingdom of God.
As a result, the sacred images do not give us illusion of the third dimension, they are really bi dimensional, because practically they are. And, being bi-dimensional, they should stay in relationship with the boards, walls, or whatever surfaces in architecture, they are created on.
That is why, when we have a commission for fresco mural decoration or for an icon, in Sacred Murals Studio we make serious studies of the place, where the image will go. In the same way worked the medieval iconographers, who never "produced" copied sacred art images, but always created their icons, frescoes and other Christian art imagery to fit concrete place.
Working this way we are sure, that our new sacred image become natural part of the interior and bring spiritual harmony to everything around.
Philip Davydov, 1-st of February, 2006.
*1 Alexander Stepanov, State Fine Art Academy of Ilya Repin, St. Petersburg, Russia.