top of page

Nature the Foundation for Painting

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Nature the Foundation for Painting

Continuing our lesson from last month we explore the strong case for the observation of nature as a basis for a painters training. From Giotto to Pollock we are exploring the implications of the observation of nature, its rendering and distillation.

As a way of defining what nature is, we can divide it into two parts

The tactile world of all living and physically observable things together with the elements of their construction.

The intangible emotional, spiritual, intellectual forces which are observable indirectly through gesture and facial expression of humans and animals.

In our last Blog we discussed Giotto and his contribution through his dedicated adherence to the observation of nature.

Today we discuss another ‘son of nature’,

Tommasco di Giovanni Masaccio, 1401-1428, considered by many influential intellectuals of his time to have brought the greatest perfection to art and was responsible for refining the modern style of painting with lifelike figures with three dimensionality. To achieve ‘naturalism’ Massacio used a variety of means which he had derived from the observation of nature they include:

The use of tone to mould form more naturalisticly.

Foreshortening: gives the illusion of depth by creating the object as if it is front on and receding into the background.

Aerial perspective: by using colour allowing the warm colours like red to drop out of the picture as the perspective dissolves into the background.

One point perspective: although one point perspective is criticized for not being naturalistic as we have two eyes it was an enormous step forward towards the two point perspective we now understand and see things in the visual world.

The Tribute Money, 1425 -Fresco by Masaccio

Masaccio’s Tribute Money 1425, fresco situated the Branacci Chapel, Florence.h their various attitudes reflect a concentrated interest on proceedings and give credence to the psychological and physical representations.

St. Peter’s crouching gesture exudes energy as he takes the coins out of the fishes mouth and again as he pays the money to the greedy tax collector.

Masaccio’s use of observation of nature is clearly identified, when he uses with the horizon line to place the general level of the heads of the figure at approximately the same level. Using the horizontal line and the accompanying architecture Masaccio creates a powerfully convincing focal point through the head of Christ.

Probably the most significant aspect attributed to observation of nature in this fresco is the use of aerial perspective. That is by creating foreground, middle ground and background with the use of diminishing figures and diminishing of the colour range, when the reds drop out in the picture plane Masaccio has created a ‘real’ pictorial space for the figures.

In conclusion Masaccio, provides a further stepping stone in understanding how we see and observe nature as it provides many and varied clues for our use and gain in our painting life.

4 views0 comments


bottom of page