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Art History Formal Analysis: The Tempest vs. Hunters in the Snow

Updated on February 24, 2012
The Tempest
The Tempest | Source
Hunters in the Snow
Hunters in the Snow | Source

For this article, I chose to analyze the artistic style and aesthetics of the works, “The Tempest” by Giorgione and “Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Breugel. Both of these works werecreated during the 1500s, which is more commonly known as the Renaissance. Other similarities between these two works is that they both depict a landscape; however, their stories are much different in that “The Tempest” is a Venetian take on the painting, but, “Hunters in the Snow,” is created in the Northern Renaissance style.

The Tempest,” by Giorgio di Castel-franco has a greater story to tell than one would first believe upon a quick look-over to this painting. This painting was not discovered until 30 years after Giorgione’s passing. It was found in the home of a Venetian man named Gabriele Vendramin. This narrative painting stands 2’ 8 ¼” by 2’ 4 ¾”. The size of this work suggests that it was manufactured for a client and for residential display and was never intended to be a public work. The subject itself signifies it was not intended for the public, because public works at the time were generally displayed in the church and civic government. This work of art has been interpreted in just about every way possible, but all have been disputed in some way or another; to this day the actual subject of this painting is unknown. Many art historians believe that there is not subject at all, it is just a fantastic painting of a landscape, and the characters in the foreground are just added for more detail and have nothing to do with subject. It is possible that the nude woman and young babe on the right side of the composition depict Mary and baby Jesus bathing at the creek. This would explain why the woman has a scarce amount of clothing on. This also suggests that the man on the left side of the composition could either be Joseph or even some sort of guard; which is why the woman is huddled up in fear.

Giorgio di Castelfranco was the first Venetian artist to use oil painting, and was well known for his smaller sized works. The mystery of the subject of this painting has intrigued audiences for generations; which is one aspect that has brought fame to this piece. However, what makes this fantastic piece so popular is the use of the background. The wonderful use of landscape conveys the period of style in which it was created. Paintings crafted in Venice had a higher value if the work contained a pastoral landscape. This is because Venetians were living in a water-bound city, and pastoral paintings served as a mental escape for those inhabitants. Also even though the story is not known it has somewhat of a poetic statement to it. This style of painting is known as a poezia; which is a signature technique for the Venetian style. Through all of this it is easy to believe that in this painting the background is as important or more important than the foreground itself.

Secondly, there is the painting, “Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Breugel. This painting is part of a greater series of six works that depict the changing of seasons during the year. This work stands at 3’10” by 5’ 3 ¾” and hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It was created in the year 1565. Unlike, “The Tempest” the subject of this work is much more clear. In this painting, hunters are returning to their home with their hound dogs, after a long day of work. This painting also clearly depicts the harmony of the town, with children ice skating, horse-drawn carriages being pulled down the paths, and women making fire for dinner. Even though their husbands’ winnings are scarce it does not seem to affect the optimistic mood of the quaint village.

Pieter Breugel conveys his skill of line and shape very well in this work. Breugel had such a skill for this that he could include such techniques without it being over-powering. As stated in our textbook, “Breugel’s consummate skill in using line and skape and his subtlety in tonal harmony make this one of the great landscape painting in the history of European art.” This work is done in oil paint and is applied to wood. The flow of the landscape brings the viewers eye fluidly through the painting because of how the trees lead your eye to the middle of the piece. Most paintings during this time in history contain vibrant colors, but in the cases of “Hunters in the Snow” and “The Tempest” the use of soft colors is what brings you in and calms your eye. “Hunters in the Snow” is easily recognized as a piece of Northern Renaissance art. Just as the Venetians valued landscape so did the Northeners. Northern Renaissance art is recognized by its intense attention to detail, but still maintaining a flat surface detail, and used line and shape in a very sophisticated way.

A major similarity that I personally see between the two works is the vital use of or emphasis on the background. As I stated before, the background was traditionally used as a simple backdrop but in figure 1 and 2 the backgrounds are an intregal part of the story. However in this second figure about the hunters, the use of a middle ground is utilized as well which ties the whole painting together. Even though the first work was painted more realistically, this second figure still moves you through its coloration as well.

Each of the works do a fantastic job of drawing your eye away from an obvious subject and require the viewer to look deeper into all of the possible meanings that each of art is trying to convey and the mysterious or not so mysterious story that the canvas or wood has to tell. Living in a world that we have every type of scenery at our finger tips; we can only try to appreciate the high regard for the landscape that the people of this time had.


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