Monday, September 10, 2012

Human Figure as Pattern

The human figure can be placed rhythmically throughout a composition to lead our eye around a space. It can be used as a device the same way as the decorative patterns on textiles or the flowers, leaves and grass in a garden. In the two examples above pattern is used not only in and around the figure but the figure itself is used as pattern. (left: Dirk Bouts, Paradise, 1468 / right: Master of the Ortenberg Altarpiece, Holy Kinship 1410). Work of the early Renaissance or throughout the medieval period serve as great examples of this "decorative" use of the figure due to the fact that naturalistic perspective was not yet in use.

Furthermore, even after naturalistic perspective became the norm, the figure as repetition was used to show multiple actions of one figure throughout an extended period of time. Not unlike a comic strip. Remember the works of this period were intended to educate a largely illiterate society. The narrative had to be quite obvious visually. In one of his panels for the doors for the baptistry in Florence, Ghiberti (above left) illustrates the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve. Adam appears in the foreground left (being created), at rest in the foreground center-right (Eve being pulled from his side), in the garden with Eve (middle-ground left) and being sent out the gates of paradise (middle-ground right). The same figure four times in one composition. Likewise in the Tribute Money by Massacio (above right) St. Peter appears in the center (receiving instruction from Jesus to go to the lake and pull out a fish), on the left side of the composition (catching the fish and pulling money from it's mouth), and on the right (paying the tax collector the money that is owed). One figure appearing three times in the same composition.
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