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March 25, 2021

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Spring Fresco.png

When the volcanic island of Thera exploded in the ancient past, it was one of the most violent eruptions in recorded history. It is thought by some that the eruption directly led to the fall of the Minoan civilization, the dominant culture in the Mediterranean at the time, which was then at the height of its power. The explosion of Thera would affect the peoples of the region, and some scholars think that the event may be the origins of the myth of Atlantis, and might be connected to the Exodus. The Greek island of Santorini is all that’s left of Thera.


Despite its power, the eruption of Thera did not completely erase the civilization that lived on the island. Like Pompeii, it was preserved under layers of ash and debris. The Spring Fresco is just one of the works of art saved. The mural wraps around the room of a house and gives the impression of the viewer walking along coast of the ancient island. It is a bright, sunny, spring day in the Aegean, with the Greek sun shining overhead. This is a volcanic island so the rocks and cliffs are sharp, jagged and irregular. They jut out and up into the sky. Springing from their clefts are clumps of lilies. Sparrows fly overhead.

The artist created large regions of color that interlock like puzzle pieces. None of them clash with each other. The blues, yellows and reds take up equal space within the landscape. Inside these, the artist added jagged lines of various thicknesses to break up the solid forms. This recreates the rough, sharp texture of the rocks, and I think it gives the work a third dimension. For example, the blue area on the left has a crag that juts into the yellow piece next to it. To me, it looks like that crag is sticking out into the ocean. There’s similar pattern in the red area on the right that mirrors it, balancing the blue piece. In my mind then, from my imagined view-point in this scene, these features break the forth wall and jut out into my space. They bring me into the work and now I am walking along the cliffs of Santorini. I can hear the waves break on the cliffs and feel its spray.

When rendering the flowers, the artist changed his approach. While the rocks use angular lines, these are dominantly curvilinear. The colors are the same red and yellow. The artist didn’t change shades or hues, just application. The plants grow in clumps and the flowers pop open in the spring sunlight. While the rocks’ surfaces are meticulously detailed, the plants’ leaves, stems and flowers are not. They are silhouettes. This softens them, contrasting them with the hard rocks. They are also mostly yellow with red tips. This lightens them and brings them into harmony with the rest of the landscape. The arrangement of the flowers also follows the general contour of the rocks against the sky, adding more harmony.

Finally, the artist added birds but kept them to a minimum. Unlike the rocks and flowers, they are outlines with colored details. This lightens them more than the flowers. They look weightless. The viewer sees them from different angles, as one would when bird-watching. The sparrows are small but their forms are energetic. They whiz through an empty sky with speed and grace. Because they are the most active images, they only dot the painting like accents. They are also only really outlines where the rocks are solid forms. This keeps them from dominating the work and preserves the unity of the overall fresco. Instead of becoming top-heavy with a swarm of sparrows, the work is anchored by the rocks and the composition lightens as it ascends.

This is a peaceful, beautiful scene, the oldest-known landscape painting in the world. The colors are pure, rich and bright. The lines are descriptive. The painting is dynamic but also quiet. The only “noise” is the sea below and the sparrows above. Maybe the wind whistles too. One source stated that modern fishermen of Santorini thought the rocks of the painting looked very much like what they have observed. According to them, they seem to appear these colors based on the time of day, the weather, and the season. The ancient artist, therefore, seems to be practicing an early naturalism a millennium before Greek Classicism.

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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