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Renaissance and Surrealism

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The Renaissance is an art movement that commonly refers to a corresponding historical time period falling in between the 14th and the 17th centuries. It began in the part of Europe which is now known as Italy, during a time when the area was organized into city-states and other political territories formed in the few centuries following the fall of the Roman Republic. This region was a large center of trade and thus, there was much wealth to draw many artists and scholars. However, there was a shift from the scholasticism of earlier mediaeval times to largely focusing on the humanities. There was also an emphasis on realism, attempting to remain as objective as possible when interpreting various works; drawing from studies in form, line, lighting, and the human figure based in Greek and Roman times. Eventually, in the last couple centuries of the period, the influences had spread across Europe partially due to the invention of the printing press. Several examples of Renaissance era artists are Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Hieronymus Bosch.Surrealism is an art movement that officially started in 1924 with the publication of Le Manifeste du Surréalisme (The Surrealist Manifesto), written by André Breton. Surrealism is believed to have been formed as a reaction to the earlier Dadaism art movement, which aimed to be an anti-art protest of the horrors brought about from World War I. Focusing on the more positive side of that protest/revolutionary process, the surrealists sought to convey the thought process itself through their art, frequently using juxtaposition and dream imagery to produce colorful and exaggerated interpretations of reality. A major influence in this realm was the dream analysis of Sigmund Freud, earlier in the century, where the unconscious mind produces a more truthful interpretation of what the conscious mind experiences. A few examples of surrealists are Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and of course André Breton who wrote the manifesto.Interesting relationships can be drawn from the two art movements, particularly from their focus on overall composition. The Renaissance and Surrealism both put strong emphasis on the study of human beings. The reason for this is because each art period attempts to convey realistic interpretations of anatomy and of the mind. The Renaissance focused more on the former, delving into topics such as geometric abstraction relating to the human figure, and with Surrealism focusing more on the latter, producing works of art that abstracted thought processes as well as scenes depicted from dreams.The Renaissance was viewed as an emergence from the ‘dark ages’ following the fall of the Roman Empire, when there was little to no cataloged development into studies dating from the Classical antiquity era. Compounding this were many wars waged in the locality from changes in political control, decimating many works of art. The invention of the printing press helped to cement this resurgence in pursuing the arts, preserving many ancient works in books and allowing them to be distributed more easily. Similarly, Surrealism is seen to be a reaction the ‘dark ages’ of World War I, when nationalism and extreme rationality lead to atrocities, decimating human life and the imaginations of many able-minded people. The release of ‘The Surrealist Manifesto’ helped to cement the movement as well, again through easy distribution of the ideals behind the period. The two art periods are also quite dissimilar to each other in that Surrealism aims to lean towards the absence of reason in producing works of art, while the Renaissance favors reason developed in the Greco-Roman philosophical studies. This is because Surrealism was more of a reactionary protest to its former styles and influences, whereas the Renaissance was more of an embrace of its former styles and influences. Also, the Renaissance had a tendency to depict scenes steeped in moral dilemma, versus Surrealism which sought to transcend outside influences of morality.This transcendence of morality is the primary deviation of Surrealism from the Renaissance. While works from the Renaissance typically attempt to recreate religious and moral scenes from history and texts, Surrealism found ultimate truth behind the scenes depicted in dreams and thought since they are believed to be manifestations of the unconscious mind culminating experiences derived from a conscious state of being. However, Surrealism also continues the traditions of the Renaissance in adherence to classical properties of form and color even while exaggerating them sometimes to the extreme. This exaggeration meant to attach new meaning to everyday objects so as to inspire a response.One particular example of a Renaissance era work of art with styles similar to those used in Surrealism, is an oil painting done on oak wood titled “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. The painting is a triptych with a grisaille showing when closed, reflecting the Earth pre-Creation. The interior panels are rendered so that representations of Heaven, ‘present-day’ Earth, and Hell, are depicted on each leaf of the triptych. The contrast in use of color and imagery transforms from left to right on each panel with recurring themes of human figures and animals depicted under each of the different corresponding moral tones.A similarly themed oil-on-canvas painting of the Surrealist era was a piece titled “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” by Salvador Dalí. It features a set of figures depicting the mythological story of Narcissus, the left figure gazing into a pool enamored with himself; the right figure is an interpretation of the left with a daffodil growing, coinciding with the tale. Human and animal forms take part in the work to convey the imagery using the same vivid color contrasting to present an underlying tone.Historically, Surrealism has had a major impact on art movements since then and some would say the era never really ended. Critics believe that it ended with the passing of André Breton; however the art movement sought to transcend art entirely into other areas of expertise including science and political thought. The works of Salvador Dalí are also fairly common knowledge in the art world having been commercialized heavily, with the “Persistence of Memory” being his most well-known painting.

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