Quattrocento Waterfall

It is a well-known phenomenon that, when one is feeling sick, all of the foods one normally finds delicious can come to seem entirely off-putting. Often at these times there are only one or two things one can bring oneself to eat, such as maybe a few soda crackers or a bowl of white rice. A similar thing happens to me with art. When I’m feeling sick with a stomach flu or something like that, almost all visual art becomes suddenly nauseating to me. No matter what I’m looking at, all I see is garish, contrived, and pointless dreck. Even many of the artists that I normally admire most–your Botticellis, Watteaus, or Max Ernsts–will set my head swimming and stomach churning. As for my own works, which I invariably find vaguely disappointing at the best of times, I mostly know better to even think of them when I am ill, so sickening they are to me. And if I were to actually cast eyes on them, the unmitigated revulsion would probably lead me to give up on art completely.

The exception to this illness-induced artistic intolerance, the visual equivalent of those crackers or rice, is for me the art of the so-called Italian “Primitives”–the Sienese and Florentine masters of the fourteenth and early fifteenth century. These are the artists I was most drawn to when I was a boy, and their frescos constitute perhaps a kind of visual “comfort food.” There is also to these paintings something elemental, unadorned, and supernaturally sincere that will always be restorative (“unadorned” should perhaps be qualified, given the abundance of gold leaf backgrounds and detailing, but even these seem to carry a note of honest materiality).

This painting is a kind of tribute to a few of my favourite stylistic elements from those trecento and quattrocento masters. That is not to say that this work is likely to nauseate me any less the next time I catch a stomach flu. On the contrary, as a shabby imitation of the genuine article, it likely holds the potential to revolt me even more than my other efforts. But it was fun to do, and a good way to observe those stylistic elements more closely.

Not all of the inspiration for this image comes from the Italian Proto-Renaissance. The composition is largely taken from a painting of Nachi Falls in Japan by an artist of the Kamakura period (1185-1333, so perhaps from the Japanese trecento?).

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2 Responses to Quattrocento Waterfall

  1. jamesavis says:

    Of course… wasn’t Giotto, in the best sense of the word, a cartoonist?


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