The Nature Pose

Throughout history, artists have used nature to enhance their subjects. It was my fascination with Leonardo da Vinci's "Saint John (Bacchus)" (not available here) that drove me to look into the evolution of the lone subject against a vivid nature scene. The key element to these works is the juxtaposition of the subject to nature.

Another of Leonardo da Vinci's works, this portrait was painted during the Renaissance. The woman is painted in a illusionistic style. Her surroundings however are far more naturalistic,
In the closing years of the Renaissance, this work still captured the spirit of the period. The emphasis on naturalism when Captain Thomas is painted is indicative of the Renaissance. Upon close inspection, veins and the lines of muscle can be clearly seen. This soldier appears out of place alone in nature, but the choice of colors and the details of the human form stand out against the serene background.
This rendition of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian depicts him in a completely natural setting instead of a rural or urban setting. His pose is very contrapposto-like. Unlike Renaissance and Classical works though, this is the moment of climax. He is writhing in pain with arrows sticking in him. This Baroque style painting's lack of green differs earlier paintings, and even Ruben's variation of St Sebastian. The lack of definitive details also give nature a more abstract style, while still remaining naturalistic.
St. John the Baptist was once again portrayed against a serene setting in the wild. Mengs chose to emphasis the juxtaposition of this man against nature by positioning him on a red cloth with greens of the wild..The complementary colors immediate fix the attention on St. John. The approach to color and painting are also handled very differently.. Mengs' painting has colors seamlessly blending together. The number of similarities to da Vinci's Saint John (Bacchus) suggest it was either a great influence on his painting style, or a direct source of inspiration for this work.
In this work, light and value are the major components. Reynolds' overwhelming lack of detail leaves light and value to create and define the image. Only Lady Finch's hands and face are highly detailed. The dress, the leaves, even the trunks of the trees are highly representational, maintaining the naturalism. The darkness forces the focus on to the light, in this case Lady Frances Finch. Her proximity to the picture plane is different from the other paintings since da Vinci's "Ginevra de' Benci ." She is directly in front of the viewer instead of being immersed in this wilderness.
At the end of Romanticism, a period focused on Man vs Nature, Rossetti's painting displays another approach, the sublime, to juxtaposing the lone figure in nature. The woman is perched in a tree, surrounded by flowers. Amid all of the beauty, she is at risk of falling. The rich colors of her garb suggest she is wealthy or well off and would not be found in a tree reading a book. And yet she is perfectly calm in this situation. Her expression suggests she is deep in thought. A new adaptation of this motif is nature is actually placing itself between the subject and the viewer.. Not only is she immersed in nature, but the viewer and the artist are separated from her.
This selection is unique is several ways. It is the only selection from Russia. It is also the only piece from an artist that was not a member of the academy of arts. Here, the little girl is separated from the viewer by both the water and the reeds. The picture plane has the viewer looking across the water to see this melancholy child, as if to suggest she is beyond reach. The natural setting does more than divide the viewer from the subject however. The colors suggest changing season, most likely autumn. The girl not wearing shoes is not an indication of the season, but instead alludes to her family's economic status. Vasnetsov's attention to detail makes the wilderness stand out more than the previous pieces. Where the other subjects were enhanced by their placement against nature, this child is almost solely defined by her placement in nature. Here is a girl alone in the wilderness with autumn setting in. She has no shoes, and is sitting on a rock, sadly gazing at the reflection on the water.. Vasnetsov could have placed this girl in a town or a city, but her placement in nature defines this painting.
Credits: All media
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