The materials, tools, and processes used in the creation of any work of art are of tremendous importance. These elements are as significant as the plot or the image depicted at the painting. They saturate the art with meaning and add specific atmosphere that is usually associated with some particular medium. For example, watercolors are usually used to depict nature or portraits of young children or women, and it is quite difficult to imagine the biblical scene of Christ’s crucifixion created with the help of watercolors. The same can be applied to both tools and other relative elements of art processes. This essay will analyze the materials, tools, and processes used to create The Toreador fresco and Piero della Francesca’s The Flagellation of Christ.
The first work of art discussed in this paper is The Toreador fresco created by an ancient Minoan culture that existed on Crete circa 1500 BCE. This fresco painting was done on the wall of the main palace in Knossos. It should be noted that Knossos is considered the oldest known city in Europe. The Minoan civilization was one of the most powerful ones in the world at the time when this fresco was created. This civilization was quite developed and it had a very sophisticated system of art and cultural entertainment. The Toreador fresco depicts a popular event often organized on Crete of that period. Bull-leaping is a combination of a religious tradition and entertainment for both common Minoan citizens and the elite. The fresco shows a bull, two persons with white skin standing in front and behind the bull, and a very dark-skinned bull-leaper, jumping over the animal.
This work of art was created by applying certain pigment combination over the fresh plaster. Due to certain chemical reactions taking place between pigments and the plaster, this painting becomes an integral part of the wall. The artists do not need any additional binders for pigments; they usually dissolve them in pure water, and then apply on the plaster. Such liquid media allow the frescoists to use very saturated colors and add many different natural pigments into the paints. Another peculiarity of fresco painting is stipulated by the fact that the plaster should be quite wet for effective penetration of pigments into its structure, so the time of actual painting process is limited by the time of plaster drying. Castleden writes that it is unlikely that The Toreador fresco that is quite large (78.2 cm x 104.5 cm) was painted in a day. Perhaps, it was separated into parts and fresh plaster was applied on the wall for exactly the area that was going to be painted within 12 hours (average time of plaster drying). The Minoan frescoists also practiced different techniques for improving the quality of the image. Castleden notes that “After the initial fresco painting had dried, some areas requiring more detailed work were cut away, and refilled and recolored with fresh wet plaster”. As frescoes in Minoan culture were usually used to decorated walls, they should be analyzed as an integral part of the architectural complexes. This medium allowed artists to make frescoes a powerful tool used to transmit the message to the inhabitants of Crete and the visitors who came to this island. The fresco and pigment technologies of that period did not allow the artists to depict life-like naturalistic objects. Castleden aptly points that “It is a symbolic world where general concepts such as fecundity were more important than accuracy of detail”.
The Flagellation of Christ was also created with the help of a liquid medium circa 1451. In case of this painting, it was oil and tempera on a wooden panel. This painting can be perfectly described as “vast and undefined urban area containing two distinct groups of figures, three out-of-doors in the foreground, and five within the architecture in the middle distance”. The way the artist organized the perspective relations between two parts of the painting is very unusual for the Renaissance. According to Sayre, “To create a sense of depth, of three-dimensions, on a flat canvas… the artist must rely on some form of illusion”. The artist also used a combination of tempera and oil to give the painting additional depth and expressiveness. The principle of working with these paints is relatively the same. However, in case of tempera, the pigment is usually dissolved in egg yolk and oil colors are prepared with the help of linseed, poppy seed, and other types of natural oils. Both materials are very long lasting, which explains the relatively good condition of The Flagellation of Christ even before the renovation. The chemical analysis shows that Piero della Francesca also added honey into the paints used for this work of art. The combination of tempera and oil is quite symbolic. The oeuvre of Piero della Francesca belongs to the transitional period between the golden phase of the Renaissance and its late stages. The Late Renaissance artists almost never used tempera, as they preferred oil paints. However, The Flagellation of Christ proves that both media can give the painter a variety of opportunities to communicate his ideas to the audience.
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To conclude, both The Toreador fresco and Piero della Francesca’s The Flagellation of Christ prove that the choice of materials and tools used for creation of the two-dimensional work of art is of great significance. These elements can have a crucial influence on the way the audience will perceive the painting and, therefore, are able to change the meaning of the art piece. Despite the fact that the painting analyzed in this essay were created during different epoch, the artists who had made them paid much attention to the media and the related processes, so they had managed to reach the harmonious combination of all the above-mentioned elements.
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