Disegno and Colore
Painting in the 16th Century Venice was still caught up in a regional debate which pitted the idea of colore against the much more formal emphasis on disegno. This held sway in the rival Florence. By exploring this philosophical and provincial debate, I have drawn contrasts between the use of colour and outline in selected works by Michelangelo and Titian. I have also looked at to what extent are these attitudes to materials reflective of the social and spatial conditions in the two cities. The artistic worlds of Venice and central Italy were distinct in the ways in which they chose to express themselves through art. They had different themes, techniques and mediums. They differed in priorities on how to depict art and awareness of what they depicted. This created debates and rivalry between the two cities. Venetian paintings projected ‘mood’ through a visual language which the audience senses (Hall, M 1992: 199) Marcia Hall explains this further: “The distance from the real world is as great as in central Italian painting, but rather than moving us toward idealizing abstraction, the Venetian painting transports us to a sylvan utopia of heightened sensibilities.” (ibid) To grasp and appreciate what colore means we have to travel back to the source, to cinquecento Venice. A city built entirely on top of a lagoon with an atmosphere that is hefty and humid. If one could picture it, it would be unmistakable that the reaction of water, light and dampness would create the illusions of unfocused figures and shapes. Venetian artists were trained, if one could say, with an eye to perceive these ‘receptions of light’. Thus making them more attentive to the change of atmosphere and how this in turn would change how a something would appear - unlike the Florentine artists who preferred to paint figures “more as they knew them to be.”(ibid) Another reason which might have had an effect on why Venetians avoided fresco painting is because of the conditions they were living in. The humidity, water and salt air made it difficult for a sensitive medium like frescos to last. Vasari also mentions the use of a canvas meant that transporting the painting would be easier. Which makes considerable sense as Venice is made up of bridges and narrow passages. (Hall, M 1992:209) These artists were willing to recreate these unplanned light affects and reflections to attain ‘the look of life’. Giovanni Bellini had recurrently studied landscapes at different times of the day in order to explore the way light would change the tones and hues. He had abandoned the egg tempera medium for the more versatile oil based paint, making it easier to reassess colours and the build-up of tonality through hues. With Bellini’s previous medium, it was difficult - if not impossible - to achieve the thick layered and textured paint of the impasto technique. In oil on canvas Venetians were able to achieve their artistic needs. The characteristic Venetian method of applying paint was coined by Bellini. The method focused on manipulating the transparency of the oil paint by allowing light to breach through the glaze. This technique gives depth to the paint by allowing the layers of lighter shades beneath to shine through. (Hall, M 1992:210) In contrast, the flat gessoed surface of the panel was more appropriate for the central Italian artists. The smooth exterior along with a brush worked in similar ways to sketching on a piece of paper. This suited them well in order to be able to reproduce the precision of the line and contour. (Hall, M 1992:209) Unlike in Venetian painting, the weave of the canvas created the texture effect of broken line and colour which enabled them to create the dreamlike atmospheric result. Hall makes an interesting analogy with Michelangelo’s works. She mentions the chisel marks that are visible on his sculptures and compares them to the unblended brush strokes of colore artists like Titian. Michelangelo would have described...
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