"The mind is a compact, multiply connected thought mass with internal connections of the most intimate kind. It grows continuously as new thought masses enter it, and this is the means by which it continues to develop."

Bernhard Riemann On Psychology and Metaphysics ca. 1860

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Open Letter on Rembrandt to Steve DiPaola

This item crossed my computer screen yesterday and elicited the following open letter to Mr DiPaola :

Researcher decodes Rembrandt's 'magic'

May 28, 2010Researcher decodes Rembrandt's 'magic'
A University of British Columbia researcher has uncovered what makes Rembrandt's masterful portraits so appealing.
 Leonardo, UBC researcher Steve DiPaola argues that Rembrandt may have pioneered a technique that guides the viewer's gaze around a portrait, creating a special narrative and "calmer" viewing experience.
Renaissance artists used various techniques to engage viewers, many incorporating new  on lighting, spatial layout and perspectives. To isolate and pinpoint factors that contribute to the "magic" of Rembrandt's portraits, DiPaola used computer-rendering programs to recreate four of the artist's most famous portraits from photographs of himself and other models. Replicating Rembrandt's techniques, he placed a sharper focus on specific areas of the model's face, such as the eyes.

While I very much agree with your thesis upon the entrainment of visual gaze by the Renaissance artist, I think that this must be understood in the much larger context of a philosophical outlook of the artist as polemicist. Two of Rembrandt's paintings are of particular note in this regard: the Night Watch and Ecce Homo. (There is a film on the polemic in the first, on the second it is extremely relevant that the action is put on stage with the bust of the emperor  seemingly gazing down in apparent approval of Christ's judicial murder.) Also Leonardo's notebooks explicitly polemicize against Michelangelo's paintings of human musculature as resembling walnuts versus his chiaroscuro. So, directing the gaze and more importantly the mind of the viewer to a higher standpoint via polemical theatrical irony was highly developed by artists like Rembrandt, Leonardo, Goya and Rafael (School of Athens.) If this is left out of consideration, then the point you quite rightly make suffers from a lack of context.

2 comments:

  1. Hey, This is Steve DiPaola. I found your open letter to me a few years latter.

    I agree with you although it is of course hard to eye track or use some other kind of sensor to accurately measure as an indiependant varible what you are have alluded to. What is amazing about our study results, is even though there are so many aspects that effect how a viewer feels when they look at a master art work like Rembrandts, that "focus of detail" and "lost and found edges", those they we did measure have a very signifacent effect when we manipulate them. See the full Leonardo and EVA papers , where I do bring up some of your polemic issues. at dipaola.org

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    1. Thanks! I have written a few remarks since then on this issue since. http://thingumbobesquire.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-rembrandt-and-not-mannerism-was.html I believe this feature of great artworks deliberately provoking movement of the gaze is akin to a dramatic work's capability to effect a quality of inner reflection of its audience. Cusa's work the Vision of God eloquently explores this subject.

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