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Video transcript

Voiceover: How do you tell a story in a picture and indicate that one thing happened and then another and then another? Figuring out how to arrange subjects so that a composition makes sense to a viewer is a crucial part of the painter's process. The artist who painted this scene used architectural elements to divide the story into sections, describing a sequence of events in a Pope's dream. If you showed the story like a cartoon, it would look like this. In the first event, Pope Sergius dreams of an angel bringing him an important message. A bishop has been assassinated and he must appoint a replacement. The second scene takes place a little farther away within a brick enclosure where two figures kneel beside the Pope. In the top right corner of the painting, the Pope is seen again blessing a new bishop. Events in the painting progress from the present in the foreground to the future in the background. To draw our attention to distant events, the artist omitted part of the courtyard wall and arranged the second scene to take place within two narrowing lines. He positioned the third scene along a line formed by a river and a road. These tapering lines lead us into the painting, while strong horizontal and vertical lines provide a sense of balance. Composition does more than lead our eye. The placement of figures and events can tell us who or what is important. When Pierre Auguste-Renoir painted this scene, he wasn't interested in recording a specific place. He wanted to capture a single moment in time. Renoir lavished much more attention on the young woman than on her companion, who is crowded into the top of the painting. Notice how the diagonal line of sight from the man to the woman echoes their clasped hands and is repeated again by the trail. This diagonal emphasis leads us to consider what might happen if she follows him to the secluded area he is gesturing toward. Renoir arranged the figures to convey a feeling of openness. Follow the lines formed by the figure's arms and by their gazes. These implied lines help us focus on the interaction between the man and the woman. See how the relationship between the two figures is disrupted when their positions are reversed? Renoir's painting is balanced and unified because it has a well thought out composition. There is something curious about this birdseye view. Philips Koninck painted this landscape as if he was looking at it from the top of a mountain. But there aren't any mountains in Holland. In a picture artists use a variety of devices to create the illusion of space on a flat surface. Koninck, like other artists, used a mathematical system for representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface. This system, called perspective, is based on the realization that our eye reads parallel lines as coming together as they recede. Here you can see how the lines converge at a single point on the horizon. Notice how things at the bottom of the canvas appear closer to us? Instead of looking into the painting, which is the natural thing to do, look at the painting from bottom to top. As your eye moves up the canvas, the landscape seems to recede and things appear farther away. Comparing these two figures shows us how artists paint obects in the foreground larger and with more detail than objects in the background. This also helps achieve the illusion of space receding away from us. If Koninck had recorded actual observations of the Dutch landscape, the picture would have looked more like this. Trees and hills would have obstructed his view over the horizon. Instead, Koninck painted the illusion of a panoramic countryside. What might this painting look like if the figures were removed? Without the romantic couple there is little sense of depth. Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted the figures so that they carve out the space. But only as long as branches and vines fall before them. Without the vines climbing in front of the woman's dress and the branches falling over the man's shoulder, the space appears shallow. The figures look as if they could easily slide down the path. Put the foliage back and the figures appear fully integrated into the landscape. Look closely at this painting by Paul Cezanne. Do things seem like they're tilted forward a little too much? Cezanne intentionally depicted these objects from multiple viewpoints. That's why everything seems askew. In more realistic perspective, this scene would look something like this. Look again. Cezanne's perspective. More realistic perspective. The green vase would look more like this in reality. But watch how drastically different Cezanne's view is. We could only see the vase from this angle if we were looking into it from above. The views that Cezanne shows us are all possible but not at the same time. If the table really existed the way Cezanne shows it, the apples would roll right off. Cezanne played with proportions and viewpoints to make us aware that in paintings depth is an illusion on a flat surface. Artists use color to unify elements to draw our attention to specific details and to express emotion. This is especially evident in this painting of Christ's entombment by Peter Paul Rubens. His use of color dramatizes the suffering of those surrounding Christ. Rubens used a palate of red, blue and white. But the white of Christ's body is vastly different than the fabric wrapped around him. Rubens painted Christ's flesh with blue undertones to convey his cold and lifeless state encouraging viewers to contemplate his death. Notice how Christ appears thrust toward us on the left where John the evangelist supports his upper body? This effect is achieved partly through composition, the way that Christ is slumped diagonally across the canvas. But the effect is increased by John's flushed cheaks and brilliant red robe. This is because warm colors like red appear to expand and move toward us. When the robe is changed to another color like blue, Christ doesn't appear to come so far forward. Cool colors appear to recede visually. This helps create depth. Behind Christ, the three Mary's are all draped in blue. The cool blue color keeps them firmly fixed in the background. Rubens emphasized the relationship between Christ and the virgin Mary through his treatment of their faces. The grieving virgin Mary's face, and especially her lips, appear even more blue than that of her dead son. Her pink hand contrasted with the blue of Christ's arm and her tearful eyes convey that she is physically alive while her pallor expresses her bereavement. Rubens used extremely intense and saturated colors to help tell the story of Christ's suffering and the grief of those who were closest to him in life. When light radiates from a central point, it creates strong highlights and shadows. This is especially evident on and around the central figures in this painting by Garrit Van Honthorst. Without the dark shadows on and behind Christ's leg, his figure seems less substantial. The shadows help convey volume, enhancing the solidity of Christ's form. Notice how the light is reflecting off the armor of the man across from Christ? Like shadows, highlights and reflections provide clues about surface and shape. Honthorst used light to indicate who was important, to add drama, and to create depth. Can you see where the light is coming from in this painting? It's not as obvious as in Honthorst's night scene. Here the light is scattered suggesting the movement of foliage. The man is so hidden that we can hardly see his face. Branches in the brim of his hat cast shadows across most of his form. The woman on the other hand seems surrounded by light. She is especially radiant in contrast to the thicket behind her. Renoir made clear that the woman is the prime focus of the picture. The path to the right of the figures is also largely in sunlight. This helps lead us into the picture and makes us wonder what will happen if she follows her companion into the secluded area at the end of the trail. Renoir orchestrated the lighting to give this scene of a casual walk in the park a sense of movement and spontaneity. When you look at a painting like this one, you can tell that the artist worked hard to convey the tactile qualities of each leaf, flower and butterfly. The artist, Jan Van Huysum, was so concerned with creating a realistic picture that he included a fly and drops of dew on flower petals. He did all this while concealing his brushwork, so we get little sense of the pressure and movement of his hand across the surface of the painting. The tactile quality of Vincent Van Gogh's irises is quite different. Clumps and dashes of thickly built up paint create texture on the surface so the paint itself takes on a sensuous three-dimensional quality. How an artist treats the surface is important because smooth surfaces reflect the light differently than textured surfaces. When a painting has a glassy surface, color rather than texture is used to create highlights like the white highlights on the underside of this red flower. Can you tell which artist had more training or was more skilled? We often make hasty assumptions about an artist's ability based simply on how the surface of the painting appears. Both artists strive to depict qualities found in nature but one was more interested in depth and details while the other was more interested in vitality and movement.