UBC Theses and Dissertations
Of flesh and pigment : early modern painting and representations of meat Chapplow, Richard
In 1551, Pieter Aertsen produced a painting that would cause a paradigm shift in the discipline of painting. In the midst of the Protestant Reformation, Aertsen pushed the previously dominant religious subject matter into the background while having earthly foodstuffs dominate the foreground of his panel. This form came to be known as the “inverted still life” and allowed Aertsen to infuse the work with religious symbols while also conforming to the new structures of the Reformation. Aertsen’s panel, covered with a panoply of representations of meat would serve a dual purpose: the legitimization of the secular world as a subject worthy of painting and it would be inspiration for artists for centuries to come. Indirectly influenced by Aertsen, Annibale Carracci would soon after paint a scene of a butcher’s stall. One hundred years after Aertsen, Rembrandt would directly quote a hanging carcass from the background of Aertsen’s work. These works while tied together thematically through representations of animal flesh and meat, can create within a viewer a vastly different experience from one another. This thesis examines the reasoning behind such differences: the materiality of paint. How paint is applied to canvas or panel can drastically alter a viewer’s perception of the represented scene. Thinly applied paint allows for finer details, but can present a more static image. Thick impasto, piled into peaks and valleys that catch and block light forestall detailed representations, but do instill a physical, visceral experience in a viewer. Paint becomes a physical trace of the artist’s hand, a hand which ultimately wrests the power of incarnation away from God and instilling it within His own creation: the artist.
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