This short essay will endeavor to analyze and discuss a piece of artwork seen in a recent visit to an art museum in the Los Angeles area. The specific piece of artwork that caught my attention was the landscape painting. This landscape painting, as attached in the appendix of the paper, is known as the Landscape with Ceres (Allegory of Earth) and was done by Jan Brueghel the Younger who lived from 1601 to 1678. The painting now hangs at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, USA.
Landscape with Ceres (Allegory of Earth)
To begin with, the work of art is a painting. The painting constitutes a landscape with the allegories of the four elements (water, fire, air and the earth) as they have been called. Upon the landscape drawn by Jan Brueghel, some figures were then added by Frans Francken II another painter of Brueghel’s time. These two artists collaborated in several projects and the Landscape with Ceres was just one of their joint projects.
The painting bears four figures of seated women surrounded by lush green landscape. One of the women figures is holding a water jar from which water and fish are flowing out. The cornucopia (probably the cornucopia of abundance prominent in the art forms of those days) arm cradled by the woman figure on the right side seems like a mixture of water and soil. The painting also has a high volume of vegetation ranging from trees to flowers, creepers to grass such that scenery seems green and flowery as if it was painted during a spring season. Besides the vegetation, the painting also includes birds in the slightly crowdy sky (perhaps signalling the emergence of rain). Notably, at the background of the four figures and the lush of green, the painting uses several patches of yellow and faint orange.
b) Analytical Purpose and Symbolism
The painting seems to have a single central purpose, theme or meaning. Rather than being a scene of beauty, it is evident that the artists who painted it were intent on revealing a truth, immortalizing the expression of how well ordered and harmonious the planet earth is and how the four elements of fire, water, earth and air, complement each other to form a singular whole.
One woman hold out a jar of water from which stirs abundant life as represented by the fish, while another holds a mixture of what seems soil and water. These women (note women and not men), denote the fertility, blessedness and purity that the human race begets when they interact with nature (the four elements) in harmony. Even as gracious and calmly as the scene at which the women pose is, their background is then given a patchwork of yellow and orange most probably to signify fire and possibly air, as the two other elements that energize life.
Notable also is the name given the painting, Landscape with Ceres. The name Ceres invokes Roman mythology, which is the central theme of the painting. Ceres is the goddess of agriculture in Roman Mythology. Agriculture utilizes all the four elements represented in the painting namely, water, air, earth, and fire. The landscape with the allegories of the four elements thus denotes the harmonious co-existence of the four elements from which all manner of life and life forms sprout, and decidedly, that is why the figures added to the painting are all women (referred as to as the offspring of life in Roman Literature) and not men.
Roman mythology held that Ceres was the goddess entrusted with growing plants and of most importantly, motherly love. Ancient Roman religion worshiped Ceres in a like manner as the Greek goddess, Demeter. In most Roman mythology works of art, Ceres was conventionally depicted with a basket of fruits and flowers, a sceptre and a garland of corn ears. She made up the trinity agricultural gods alongside Libera and Liber. In the painting at hand, the conventional items carried by Ceres are all present in addition to those of the water (fish), earth (vegetation and soil).
c) Elements Proportionality
The painting is largely symmetrical and uses regular shapes to depict its components (Hollingsworth and Hollingsworth 42). The women figures are centered on the photograph (possibly depicting humankind as a central component of life) in realistic and proportional size to other objects in the painting such as the trees (bigger), the fish (smaller), the water jar (smaller) etc. As such, the relative size of the objects is proportional to that of real life. It is also notable that the focal point of the painting is not wholesomely upon the women figures. The artists did not want to draw attention to the women. That is why their facial and bodily details are not very specific (Hollingsworth and Hollingsworth 42).
The painting is very balanced without any singular component attracting greater attention than the others. Nonetheless, the moment one glances on the painting, the eyes immediately land on the women figures as the focal point, not because they are clearer than the other components of the painting, but most probably because of their placement in the center of the landscape. This might have been the intention of the painters in trying to show how the universe works in harmony and yet revolves around humankind and his survival as Roman Mythology proposed.
Notable also is how the figures, still life objects, landscape and colours work together to create a uniquely unified scene. This is almost an unbelievable feat given that two different artists and not just one, worked at different times to create the painting.
d) Employment of Color
Color has been used brilliantly in the painting to deliver a message, create a tone and invoke connotations. Notable is the deliberate use of dark green colors punctuated with flowerily parts of plants at the foreground. This helps create a feeling of cerebration, a feeling of rejoicing in nature, a feeling of contentment and one that is only possibly in a warm spring season. These artists seemed to depict a scene of grandeur and fulfillment that nature accords mortals.
Yet as one moves towards the back of the painting, at the background of the women figures, the colors become increasingly lighter as if to denote fire and the air that maintains life in planet earth. The humans are thus rejoicing in the vegetated part of the universe while the fire and air come from the background to enable and maintain the life of the planet.
The painting was done with oil on a fiberboard. The brush strokes are well rounded and continuous and do not particularly call attention when looking at the painting. Mainly because the objects in the painting are small and composed of numerous parts, the brushwork is hard to pinpoint. The overall texture is soft, sample, and seemingly unified as the theme of the painting is.
Given the thematic concerns of the painting, the basing given in Roman Mythology, the components depicted and the time in which the painters lived, the painting can thus be easily be attributed to have been done around the 1630’s. Most probably, this painting was part of the Baroque movement.
This painting is a realistic artwork and lacks any abstract depictions. In his pioneer publication, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), posted that the Greek culture wasn’t orderly, measured, or lucid as it was formerly thought (Honour and Fleming 67 – 73). The Greek god Apollo represented a sobriety best exhibited by plastic arts like sculpture, but whish was absent in other art forms. Sculptures and similar arts thus became Apollonian going by Nietzsche hypothesis (Honour and Fleming 67 – 73).
The philosopher then posted that much of Athens was a brand of rare optimism towards life and the world, prompted by strong undercurrents of a dark, murky and chaotic cultural values of the Greek (Honour and Fleming 67 – 73). It was the god Dionysus, who aptly represented this side of the drunkenness, licentiousness, wanton lustfulness, excesses and suffrage (Honour and Fleming 67 – 73). Such a Dionysian side was also present in music, song, dance and paintings (Honour and Fleming 67 – 73). Going by Friedrich Nietzsche’s hypothesis, the painting under analysis is largely Dionysian since it denotes an obliviation of individuals and their immersion into the whole group or scenery as part of nature. The painting has that sense of losing oneself, standing outside of oneself in that drunken ecstasy of rejoicing.
It seems that the artists wanted to draw a balanced attention to the painting as a whole, where man is but part of the larger landscape of mother earth. The importance of such a balance as instilled in this painting is that it shows every component not as greater than the others, but as part of the other in a singular, mutual and complementing manner. The painting also manages to attract first impression by the women figures as the focal point, mainly because of their placement in the center of the landscape. This helps the painters to show how the universe works in harmony and yet revolves around humankind and his survival, a central message in Roman Mythology (Honour and Fleming 67 – 73).