The Sense of Form in Art: A Comparative Psychological Study

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

VIII. CLARITY AND THE SUBJECT IN ART

Visibility and Objectivity

ITALIAN ART, following the principles of Antique art, manifests an especially strong inclination toward visibility. The forms in architecture and the pictorial arts are readily comprehensible to the eye. We have already discussed the way in which the plastic character of the figures leads to clarity of appearance. We have also observed that visibility is furthered from another quarter by grandeur and simplicity. And we have seen that relief-like representation is the pictorial style that causes the viewing eye the least effort.

Thus, the concept of visibility is not new to our exposition. But we must take it up once more as a separate topic, inasmuch as there is in Italian art a beauty of visibility that is unknown in the North, a visibility that is considered not only as a self-evident obligation to the subject but almost as an end in itself. The Italians enjoy visual clarity with a sensuous pleasure, as it were; and the lack of this clarity in northern art is repeatedly condemned as intolerable.

It is part of Italian life to sit and look for hours in the piazza. The works of Dante and Ariosto are full of images that present themselves very distinctly to the mind. The Italian imagination is of an equally clear pictorial nature; and the praise of the eye as the most noble organ resounds from Antiquity down through the entire Renaissance. Its most enthusiastic advocate was Leonardo.

Dürer, it is true, echoed this praise; but the northern concept of visibility is, in fact, different from the southern. Just as German art is only partially focused on plasticity and just as simplicity and grandeur remain as strange to the Germans as the pure relief style, so we cannot speak here of clarity as a guiding concept. This does

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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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