The Sense of Form in Art: A Comparative Psychological Study

By H. Wolfflin; Alice Muehsam et al. | Go to book overview

VII. THE RELIEF CONCEPTION

THE RELIEF CONCEPTION might also be called the plane-like character of Italian art. But, by using the first expression, we are perhaps likelier to avoid the danger of conveying the idea of poverty in relation to depth about an art where depth does exist. We do not mean that depth is lacking, but only that it is restrained, thus giving a plane-like impression. Of course, the concept of relief is also ambiguous--there is a relief style that fundamentally negates the plane. However, no one will think that this is meant here.

The decisive traits of the relief character of Italian art derive, in general, less from sculpture than from painting. Even the unpracticed eye will immediately see the deliberate adherence to the principle of the picture plane and will notice it more in the work of the late primitives than in that of the true classic artists. It is extremely striking in the paintings of Ghirlandaio and Carpaccio, while Raphael and Titian handled it in a more inconspicuous manner. However, it lost none of its image-determining power--quite the contrary.

The more-or-less compact rows of figures parallel to the picture plane produce a stable and calm appearance. This sort of reference to the surface can be interpreted as a feeling for the tectonic; on the other hand, such an arrangement will always result in a decided impression of tranquility. The relief conception, however, may well have its deepest roots in visibility, which it guarantees, since the arrangement in the plane is the most easily comprehensible of all possible arrangements.

The principle is applicable not only to a number of figures but also to the single figure. It, too, is placed in the plane in such a way that it can be perceived as a pure plane figure without losing its three-dimensional character. Applied to sculpture in the round, the principle means that the spectator does not have to walk around the

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The Sense of Form in Art: A Comparative Psychological Study
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Preface 3
  • Contents 7
  • List of Illustrations 8
  • Introduction 13
  • I. Form and Contour 21
  • Ii. Regularity and Order 87
  • Iii. the Whole and Its Parts 119
  • Iv. Relaxed Tension 150
  • V. Grandeur and Simplicity 166
  • Vi. Types and Generality 180
  • Vii. the Relief Conception 190
  • Viii. Clarity and the Subject in Art 202
  • Conclusion 224
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