Different works of art depict serious narratives, while including exemplars of actions that typically possess didactic overtones. In this particular sense, these historical paintings present stories that often give a documentary-type description of real and actual events that took place during different epochs in history.1These paintings are commonly large in scale with their subjects picked from mythology, the bible, secular literature, historical events or allegories. Two paintings that are of particular importance to historians and which will be analyzed in this essay are El Greco’s depiction of the Counts burial and the January segment by the Limbourg brothers.
El Greco (a Greek living in Spain) had his painting on the Orgaz’s burial executed between1586 and 1588. 6It was commissioned by a parish priest from Santo Tomé by the name Andrés Núñez who gave the green light for the commencement of the project during the refurbishment of the said Count’s burial chapel.2 Two clear demarcations exist in the painting, creating two distinct zones. One of the zones has heaven evoked by swirling clouds in a semi-abstract shape with the saints appearing as tall phantomlike figures. The second zone is in normal scale utilized to create proportional figures. These two zones are then brought together compositionally by the cross, torches and standing figures by their speckled participation in this earthly and heavenly occurrence.
El Greco’s painting has clear chromatic harmony which is radiant, incredibly rich and expressive. Intense ceremonial characters are created by the mourning garments that area black and gold-embroidered. As a personal work of Domenikos Theotokopolous, better known as El Greco, the painting contains no references to Venetian or Roman motifs or formulas. El Greco succeeded in successfully any known description of space in his painting. In terms of iconography, the painting can be said to be closer in relation to the Assumption of the Virgin (of Byzantine iconography) as El Greco strongly relies on the expressive requirements of the art and narratives that it represents.3 As a religious painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz is a Catholic Counter- Reformation Art that typically elongates forms figures in order to reveal the subjects inner spirit.
The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is an illuminated French Gothic manuscript whose painting started in 1413 and was later left unfinished in 1416 upon the death of the Limbourg brothers and the Duke of Berry. It was however completed in 1485 upon request by a subsequent owner. 4The manuscript is a famous calendar that contains twelve large scenes. January is slightly different from the other landscape illustrations as it depicts the duke in a tapestry hall. Around the duke, there is the exchange of presents. It is very likely that the Limbourg brothers were involved in this ritual exchange; a man in the mid-ground donning a floppy cap could be a representation of one of the brothers.
In the painting, the table is resplendent in a form of damask and also laden with high value goods to represent the taste and wealth of the Duke. Heraldic motifs that relate to the Duke and his positions are depicted by the golden fleur-de-lis can be seen in the blue circles that are above the Duke. The background also consists of tapestries containing a scene of noble knights that emerge from the castle and ready to ride into battle. 7 This picture is a fine illustration of medieval manuscript illumination during the fifteenth century with a subtle variation of line, the rendering of minute detail and painstaking technique based on motifs of classical antique.5 The fresco murals are of naturalistic frescoes organized in a simple linear perspective. Historical art is rich in information that when interpreted reveals more of what the artist intended to put across.
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