Comparing artwork from The Palace of the Legion of Honor
Artwork illustrates what the mind holds and it is there for the mind to grasp. In which way, one may ask? The artwork can carry many different interpretations as Leonardo states, in his comparison between poetry and painting from his undated manuscripts, . . . your [the poet s] pen will be worn out before you can fully describe what the painter can demonstrate forthwith by the aid of his science, and your tongue will be parched with thirst and your body overcome by sleep and hunger before you can describe with words what a painter is able to show you in an instant. These pieces may not be described in words but they can be analyzed by one s own views. The following paragraphs will attempt to dissect three paintings from two different periods by comparing them with earlier artwork and interpreting them through my perspective. But first, let me describe my impression of the general layout of the museum.
The Palace of the Legion of Honor consists of two floors: the upper-level and the lower level. The lower level is the place to hang-out after studying all the artworks. It consists of a diner, a museum store and a few artistic displays. The upper-level is the main floor. When you first enter the museum, you have a choice of three or four different entrances. You enter the middle room ahead and at the very rear of it, there are two other doorways on opposite sides of the room. Once entering the third room, your led into an adjacent room and then to another until you reach a dead end. The other side of the museum is the same layout. It is T shaped with the entrance making a V shape. It was very fascinating and at first, it sort of felt as if I was in a labyrinth
The late 15th century Italian painting oil on panel The Legend of Brutus and Portia by Jacopo di Arcangelo was the first painting in the room of The Palace of the Legion of Honor that struck me. The background and the stiff figures were not very realistic as was the style during the High Renaissance in Italy. This piece reminded me of Gentile da Fabriano s Adoration of the Magi that was painted sixty years earlier in that the robes of the group of ladies and the saddles on the horses have the bright gold gilded on them. The horses were not drawn very well in either painting. Arcangelo must have copied the white horse of Fabriano s painting because Arcangelo s horse looks exactly the same but in a different position. Arcangelo used the idea of continuous narrative that we first saw in Masaccio s The Tribute Money which was also painted sixty years before that. After examining Arcangelo s painting for a while, I noticed purple and blue-green rocks, which made the whole painting look like a dream. Linear perspective was used on the buildings since Brunelleschi discovered it early that century. There were a couple of pointy structures in the international gothic style. Figures with red or light red clothing distinguished the protagonists from the unimportant figures in the painting. Arcangelo used horses, probably as the symbol of freedom, from my perspective. That is where I find where the very creative composition starts. Two horses in the background jump over a river, they almost look like they are flying (freedom flying), and then meet where a group of army men are preparing to battle. As the flow of horses move to the next scene, the men engage in battle where horses lay dead. I noticed a shield with a horse laying on the ground and then a man kneeling
behind the bushes almost whispering to a messenger about something bad. In the next scene, the messenger tells a lady in the pink, Portia I would guess, who when hearing this news stabs herself. Then she is led by a group of ladies into this heavenly garden where a pillow lays. Maybe it was a dream. As the composition moves from the background to the foreground then from the left to the right of the painting, freedom is decreasing to the point of near death. The ground on which Portia stands on is cracked, maybe symbolizing that her world is crumbling beneath her from this bad news. The expressions of the ladies were not all evident but it was evident that Portia was in pain because she can barely walk. Arcangelo s intentions were not easily seen but it was a learning experience in trying to dissect the painting.
The second painting that represented it s era, Baroque art, was that of the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubins very large life-size oil on panel The Tribute Money of the early 17th century. Right away you can see the light and dark, chiaroscuro, in this painting. Rubins was influenced by Caravaggio s The Calling of St. Matthew in that the figures are all life form and clustered together. Not only that but the effect of chiaroscuro from the light shining in was very similar as Caravaggio s. The colors were all dark except at the faces and hands making it a learning scene. In the scene, Pharisee asks the question whether it is lawful to pay taxes. And they listen to Jesus reply, Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar s and to God the things that are God s. The face of Pharisee is desperately searching for an answer. The light shining through hits Pharisee s head making the audience see that he is in the process of understanding what Jesus had just told them. Rubins put a lot of detail in the bald
guy s jacket and the wool looks very warm. Every face is realistic and painted in detail, especially the beards, common for Baroque art. What really struck me were the eyes. The eyes were looking everywhere like laser beams coming out of the painting. One guy is telling another, See, I told you , another, Did you hear that? Really? And there is one guy in the background looking straight at you saying, Watch yourself, know the difference between material and what is divine. That same person could be a self-portrait of Rubin. All this is communicated to the audience through the painting and it is painted in mid-action, as is in a lot of Baroque art. The composition starts at Jesus left finger pointing down to the three hands coming together, then up Pharisee s right hand to the bald guy s head. From there it follows everybody s head across the painting back to the head of Jesus. At the top left corner there is a semi-circular hole in the wall where something like a sculpture can be placed. The way Rubins uses space and makes the paintings look real, fascinates my eyes. I believe Rubins succeeded in properly representing his intentions.
One painting that electrified my mind with its iconography and made more sense than any other painting in The Palace of the Legion of Honor is the one painted by the Dutch artist Matthias Stom[er]. This mid-15th century oil on canvas The Calling of St. Matthew illustrates the scene when Jesus tells Levi, Follow me. Levi leaves his position as a tax collector, now known as Matthew, and follows Jesus to become one of the twelve disciples. In this piece he also employs few ideas of Caravaggio. It is a darkened scene; the only life-size figures that are lighted are the important figures. Stomer like Caravaggio, illustrates sacred Christian beliefs in everyday people and
everyday life. Also, the expressions are very realistic; you can see the veins on the hands of Levi and the other tax collectors. Levi seemed sort of dumbfounded or surprised when Jesus called for him. The old man is very concentrated in weighing the coins and does it very delicately. Stomer also shows you a person facing straight at you, one who is facing sideways, and Jesus who is in a torsion position. There’s a foot below at the center facing you, the book looks as if it is barely hanging over the table. The book, the scale, and Levi are all crowding the little space where the table sits extending into the background. Again all this is caught in mid-action and it captures light, space, and time, which are universal for the period, the Baroque. The way Levi is positioned and the pressure on his left hand tells you he is about to get up and follow Jesus. The table cloth hanging over the edge of the table is perfectly centered in the middle and if you follow it to the hand of the person keeping records, then up through the scale to the delicate hand across both the heads of the old man and Levi’s, down to Levi s right pinky, up through the record keeper s left pinky up to his head, back down the record keeper s right arm and back to his hand, then an infinity figure is created. The one thing that I found interesting is that all the figures are wearing everyday clothes except Jesus and half of Levi s body. Jesus is wearing blue and red and the left half of Levi is also wearing blue and red, the other half is everyday clothes. My interpretation is that as Levi is getting up, he is leaving his everyday clothes (symbolizing his old position as a tax collector) and wearing what Jesus is wearing (becoming Jesus follower). Sort of like a transformation from the old to the new. Levi s left arm is also bent the same way as Jesus left arm symbolizing Levi becoming holy.
Visiting and actually studying this art museum was my first experience, and it will not be my last. It makes me want to visit the museums in Europe, such as the Louvre, which I will do one day in the future. After my two visits to The Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, I finally began to understand the different periods of art and their chronological order. Even though I had to study the paintings, I enjoyed looking into the past. I will return once more, but this time I will bring my little brother and sister along with me. And at that I will say that experiencing the art was soul food for my mind.