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The Morning Report - 12/21/21 | Main | The Morning Rant: Minimalist Edition
December 21, 2021

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Mengs Parnassus1.jpg

Anton Raphael Mengs

Around the mid-18th century, a new generation of artists were fed up with the bombastic noise of the late Baroque and the decadent shallowness of the Rococo. There was a desire for sobriety, idealism, and good taste in art. Many artists began to turn back to the classical world for inspiration. The result was Neoclassicism.

Anton Mengs was one of the aesthetic fathers of Neoclassicism. He was a close associate of Johann Winckelmann, a German art theorist, considered the first modern art historian. In Classicism, Mengs and Wincklemann found the guidelines for a universal art: simplicity, symmetry, and absolute beauty.

Parnassus refers to Mount Parnassus, the home of the nine Muses of Greek mythology. They personify creativity and inspiration in the arts and intellectual thought. Apollo, god of wisdom and the arts, is their leader. The work is arranged as a tableau. Each figure carries their attributes for easy identification. A nude Apollo stands tall in the center, a perfect representation of youthful beauty. He is crowned with a laurel wreath, and holds a lyre. In his right hand, he raises another yanni wreath—ready to crown the next great laureate. Enthroned to his immediate right is the mother of the Muses: Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. The Muses fan out to the sides.

The work is composed to create a simple, symmetrical image. Apollo is dead center. He poses in a classical contrapposto. The women are arranged in two equal groups on each side, and line up to create a shallow oval. The women seem to orbit around Apollo, like planets around the sun (god). The figures are also arranged into a triangular shape that reminds me of the pediment of a Greek temple. The figures in this painting are arranged similarly to the figures that would decorate those pediments too. This is no coincidence. This is absolutely a call back and the contemporary German viewers would have recognized it too. The background is a basic landscape—a lush, green forest with a glade for the god and goddesses to gather and frolic—with a nice view of the mountains.

There’s something interesting going on with the colors, but I cannot tell if it’s purposeful or due to the painting’s age. It seems that the Muses of the serious arts—tragedy, astronomy, history, sacred music, and epic poetry—are rendered with deeper, brighter, more intense tones. While the colors on the lighthearted arts—comedy, dance, song, and music—are clothed in less intense colors. Mnemosyne is also rendered in the former color scheme, seeming to infer that memory or remembering human culture and achievement is serious business. If this is purposeful, it’s a neat Easter-egg by Mengs, and may give insight into his attitudes about different subjects. Most of the brighter, intense colors are on the right, with that deep gold at the far end. Did Mengs put the two dancers on the left to balance out the energy?

Other than that burst of action, this is a pretty quiet painting. Nothing is really happening. There’s no story being told. No real action. It’s just a gathering of gods for a group portrait. It is perfectly balanced, perfectly composed. It is an almost total departure from the Baroque, but still retains some residual influences. The colors are different shades of the primaries, with duller secondary hues for filler. It’s a static early work in a movement that soon became known for its vibrant theatricality and melodrama, and its ability to inspire Revolution.

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:45 AM

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