A Renascence of Art

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For my Photography Project 2, Option 1, “The Sociological Essay”, I’ve chosen Pieta from Thomas W. Chambers’ Illumination series (circa 2013)[1] as my “Manipulated Image” to analyze. I’ve chosen this particular image because it is an obvious recreation of the sculpture also entitled Pieta (from the Latin pietas meaning “piety, pity”) crafted by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni – commonly referred to as simply Michelangelo – which depicts the blessed Virgin Mary holding her recently crucified son, Jesus, across her lap.

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This essay is supposed to “~ analyze a particular historical era or societal trend as well as ask how that era of movement influences a particular work or artist;” those terms seem reasonable enough so I will start with the first task. The particular historical era or societal trend which influenced Thomas Chambers’ work in his Illumination series is blatant, the Italian Renaissance, which was dominated by religious – both theologically Abrahamic and Greco-Roman – masterpieces, as shown in Chambers’ inspired images. Subjects such as those below;

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Lifted depicting an apparently possessed woman.[1]

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Impossible Intentions with the rosary and votive (prayer) candles – a nod to Catholicism’s condemnation of suicide.[1]

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Lucca Luna which portrays the maiden goddess Artemis (Diana) as a child – probably when her godhood was instated – with a bow in her hand. [1]

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These images are all in conversation with the recreation of Pieta (displayed at the beginning of this essay – on the left [1] – along with Michelangelo’s original – on the right (3)). Pietas does not simply mean “piety, pity” as I stated earlier, but “~ translates variously as “duty”, “religiosity” or “religious behavior”, “loyalty”, “devotion”, or “filial piety”, and was one of the chief virtues among the ancient Romans”[2]. Chambers said in response to the question “~ who is being held in her motherly arms (in Pieta)?” that “~ over time a range of artists have created their interpretation of the Pieta. And it was tempting to create my version of the Pieta as an expression of love between mother and son, a powerful bond”[6].

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I find this work sociologically interesting because if you look at the works from the Italian Renaissance in conjuncture with Chambers’ pieces you’ll find that his work has a melancholic aura, a contrast of bright and dark colors that instead of praising what they depict the images doom their captured subjects. Many works of the Renaissance though depicting a horror are painted in bright and airy colors that counteract its subject – such as

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Entombment by Pontormo (1)

and

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Crucifixion With Saints by Perugino.(2)

In a glance those two examples would not appear to have intense subject matter due to the brightness of the canvas. This disparity of views towards religion – the Renaissance view being beautiful and good and gracious as opposed to Chambers’ portrayal of it as more sacrificial and dark. In his Illumination page Chamber’s wrote this beside his images:

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Renaissance artists affirmed the transformational nature of light in their classical paintings. Taddeo Gaddi and Giotto di Bondone of the Renaissance period painted breathtaking frescoes in which light created dramatic effects. Artists, such as these masters, inspired me to create photomontages that highlight the aesthetic power of light.


Following recent travels in Italy, I was awed by the metaphysical nature of Tuscan light. The unique light accentuated the brilliance of the Renaissance artistic and architectural masterpieces. I came away with the understanding that light exposes possibilities and opens the mind to seeing things differently. Illumination, a series of photomontages, illustrates stories about personal beliefs and seeing things in a different light.” [1]

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The artist, Chambers, has “~ since 1998 devoted himself to photomontage for sharing the intriguing unspoken stories which reflects his view of the world and elicit feelings in the viewer,”[3] and he has succeeded in his devotion. This piece (Pieta), for example, has a Roman and Catholic aspect in the dress and the orbs which in another image are indentified as Ursa Minor, a very clever analogy between God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and Zeus, Callisto, and Arcas. The story of the Virgin Mary’s conception is well-known, but I will reiterate here:

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~ In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” [4]

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Jesus was the prophet of the Christian faith but before them there were Zeus, Callisto, and Arcas (the first Arcadian) whose tale went that:

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~ Callisto was a nymph (or in some accounts the daughter of Lycaon) associated with the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. The young females devoted to the goddess hunted with her and remained forever virgins like Artemis herself. Callisto eventually caught the eye of Zeus, however, and knowing that the maiden had taken a vow of chastity, Zeus resorted to deception to get at Callisto. He came to her disguised as Artemis, and the young huntress (Callisto) let down her guard. Seizing the opportunity Zeus raped her. Callisto became pregnant, and tried desperately to conceal her condition from the goddess but inevitably her secret was revealed. Artemis was furious, and she banished the young woman from her fold. And so Callisto wandered off to have her child alone. Hera (Zeus’ wife) decided then that it was time for her to exact her revenge. She gripped Callisto’s hair and threw her to the ground where the new mother was transformed into a bear. The hunter became the hunted. And the child that Callisto had bore by Zeus was spirited away by Hermes (another child of Zeus’) to be raised by his mother, Maia. The child of Callisto and Zeus was named Arcas, meaning “bear,” and he grew up to be a fine hunter himself till one day he came upon his mother, when she tried to near him however he killed her for he did not know her. Zeus took pity on his former victim and intervened. He placed Callisto in the sky as the constellation Ursa Major, or “great bear,” and then took Arcas and placed him in the sky near his mother as Ursa Minor, the “little bear.”” [5]

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This image, Ursa Minor [1], is most powerfully in conversation, in my belief, with Pieta because of the juxtaposition between the two stories (beliefs); mainly the ideas of motherhood and the questions of innocence they each portray. This juxtaposition of religions and beliefs is important because in the Renaissance all the religious (Catholic) depictions were bright and happy and yet when looked at deep enough you can find that they are not much different than the Roman and Greek tales. Mary did not ask for a child and she was still worried about her virginity which Chambers did comment on indirectly in response the question “~ in Ursa Minor your adolescent girls glow. Do you think we do young girls justice by asking them to represent innocence and magic? Or do we not protect this enough in them and in children in general? Has the period of innocence become too short? If so, what can be done about it?” to which Chambers replied that he “~ thinks it is important to treat children according to their chronological age and, as much as possible, to preserve the innocence of childhood. In our fast moving, ever changing, culture, dominated by technology, it is a huge challenge to protect children and childhood.” And I think this is an important sociological issue; that what the bible teaches, whether it be directly or indirectly interpreted, in its supposedly clear and pure intentions, is that it is acceptable for a male to take away the innocence of a female, however it is unacceptable and even condemned for the female to be anything but innocent. Through this paradox that the bible encourages, a facade has been created over the beliefs of those in practice of the Christian (Abrahamic) religions. These beliefs transcend the church and make their way through society, effecting it at all ends. A society has been created that shows the fake face of innocence over a darker truth, and this is exactly what can be seen in these works of art.

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The Question I get asked by religious people all the time is, Without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is, I do rape all I want, and the amount I want is Zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount is Zero. The fact that there people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. “

– Penn Jillete, Illusionist, Author and Atheist [7]

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I think that Chambers’ is subtly commenting on how, with the growth in society and morality, religion (Abrahamic) should have grown as well, when instead it’s been growing dimmer as more light is shined elsewhere.

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WORKS CITED

[1] Chambers, Thomas W. “Illumination.” tom chambers photo.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://www.tomchambersphotography.com/about.html&gt;.

[2] “Pietas.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietas&gt;.

[3] Chambers, Thomas W. “About.” tom chambers photo.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://www.tomchambersphotography.com/about.html&gt;.

[4] “The Angel Gabriel Spoke to Mary.” Bible View Presentations. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://www.birthofjesus.orconhosting.net.nz/01_Angel.html&gt;.

[5] Lee, Melissa. “Callisto.” Encyclopedia Mythica. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/c/callisto.html&gt;.

[6] “The Impossible Intentions of Tom Chambers, Photographer.” Combustus. N.p., 15 June 2013. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://www.combustus.com/13/tom-chambers/&gt;.

[7] “Quote of the Day : Penn Jilette on Rape and Murder in the Absence of God.” WordPress. N.p., 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://mindofatul.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/penn-jilette-on-rape-and-murder-in-the-absence-of-god/&gt;.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(1) http://muvtor.btk.ppke.hu/vizsgak%E9pek_Bevezet%E9s%20a%20renesz%E1nsz%20m%FBv%E9szetbe/Cinquecento%20fest%E9szet_Manierizmus/Pontormo_1528%20Cappella%20Capponi_Deposizione.jpg

(2) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbell1975/3158090334/

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet%C3%A0_%28Michelangelo%29#mediaviewer/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_edit.jpg

 

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