Craig Oates

Piero Della Francessca with The Flagellation of Christ and Pablo Picasso with Woman at The Toilet


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This post is part of a series of blog posts called Noteworthy Artists and Artworks. For more information about the series, please read Series Breakdown: Noteworthy Artists and Artworks. You can find the link at the end of this post.

The way Picasso and della Francesca have incorporated and utilise space in their work has affected and expanded my understanding of it. The most notable thing is their ability to depict space in two and three dimensions in the same image. And, it is this which I intend to focus on for the remainder of this post.

Piero della Francesca was an Italian Renaissance painter. His birth is believed to have been around 1420 A.D. but it is not known where. He died in Sansepolero, Italy in 1492 A.D.

Throughout his life, his peers knew him as a mathematician and geometer. These days, however, most know him as an artist. And, for the purpose of this post, that it the area I will focus on most. To be more precise, I will focus on one of his paintings: The Flagellation of Christ (fig. 1). It is currently on display at the Galleria Nazionale della Marche, Urbino.

The Flagellation of Christ
Figure 1: The Flagellation of Christ, probably 1468–1470 by Peiro della Francesca

From a personal point-of-view, della Francesca's understanding of figurative and literal space is what I am most interested in. When I say "figurative", I mean the depiction aspect of the image (the buildings, people Etc.). The "literal" part is the act of splitting the painting surface in two (via the composition of the image). This, in-effect, leaves us with two images in one.

To help explain my point, please consider the image below (fig. 2 ). As you can see, the image has a clear divide about halfway along the horizontal axis. This has caused the image to split into two sections. He has traversed the panel (I.E. canvas) in a literal sense (horizontally). On top of that, he has managed to portray a sense of three-dimensional depth on a two-dimensional plane via perspective projection (A.K.A. perspective drawing). You should find an additional image (fig. 3) below to help demonstrate this point.

The Flagellation of Christ
Figure 2: della Francesca has split the image into two sections along the horizontal axis.

The Flagellation of Christ
Figure 3: With the application of perspective projection, the image has a three-dimensional quality to it.

The next image I will focus on is called Women at The Toilet (fig. 4 ) by Pablo Picasso. For those unfamiliar with Picasso, he was a Spanish artist know most of all as one of the founding fathers of Cubism. He was born 25th October 1881 A.D. in Málaga, Spain and died 8th April 1973 A.D. in Mougins, France. Women at The Toilet is part of the collection at Musée National Picasso, Paris.

Women at The Toilet
Figure 4: Women at The Toilet, 1956 by Pablo Picasso

When looking at pieces like Women at The Toilet (fig. 4), you get a sense of movement and positioning through Picasso's cubist exploits. What is impressive (to me at least) is he has achieved it in a static environment. For example, if you look at the woman on the right, there is an expectation for her hands to move. You expect the comb to run through her hair and an odd sensation arises when it does not. Her hands, the comb and hair all remain fixed in place. This is were your mind starts to fill in the gaps and applies the movement itself. The same thing occurs with the woman on the left. You anticipate her body to turn but it never does. Things become more complicated when your mind starts to make her turn towards and away from you at the same time. Of course, this is just one approach to addressing such concerns. But, it was Picasso and this piece (amongst others) which piqued my curiosity. After coming across work like this, my understanding of movement and positioning began to change. This was especially true in two-dimensional contexts.

If I may, I would now like to end with an aside. It does not relate to what I said above in an exact manner but it is in keeping with the spirit of it. As a maker, I am intrigued in movement, location and positioning (in space). How things are perceived has a dependency on where they are viewed. This can be said for both parties: the artist and the artwork.