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Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Comparison by John von Daler

                 I am not a fan of art critics. They are always insisting that "our eyes are lead" or our "attention is drawn" while I am concentrating on something else. With the exception of a few wise descriptions, I would just rather be left alone with the painting.

                That is, of course, why I will be troubling you today with my own very few thoughts on two paintings. Have a look at Paolo #Uccello's "The Battle of San Romano" from the fifteenth century. (I think there are three. The one I am talking about you will see on this page.)  Then compare it to Jacques Louis David's "Oath of the Horatii" painted more than three centuries later.
                I am a great fan of Uccello. He lived during the renaissance, but evidently did not, like so many of his contemporaries, revert to classicism. This scene is noisy, bustling, luxuriously deep in color with a supreme attention to perspective (notice the deployment of the lances), beautiful, and even delicate in its aesthetics. You could make a case for viewing it as an abstract painting, a game of shapes and colors.

                David's picture, while also deeply involved in the use of perspective and color, is austere, moral, well, political. In stark images #David wants to tell you exactly what to do. Maybe you could define it as propaganda; it evidently found its audience in supporters of the state, the king, the revolution, and even Napoleon. The style of the painting is reminĂ­scent of fascist taste more than one hundred years later.

                While both pictures depict military themes, Uccello's is based on an aesthetic world view which happens to depict something political. The other, David's, starts with politics and reaches aesthetic decisions on the basis of that. The difference is not without significance in these two pictures of heroism.

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