13 June 1996
World of Arts, Art 199A
Eastern Washington University IFSP
Pre-Departure Phase Art Report
Art History Report
First impressions of any piece of "art" are bound to be superficial to the first-time
tourist. However, with a little background study before the trip, one is likely to glean
more from foreign museums and architecture than before. To familiarize myself with
art history of Europe--caveman to current--I bought Europe 101: History and Art for
With that said, I can delve into what I will be studying. Fresh from reading the
informative Europe 101--cowritten by Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw--my mind
is brimming over with information. Thanks to what I learned from Europe 101, my art
studies have added ease and potential. During this up-and-coming Europe trip I will
primarily look at the art of Italy: B.C. 500 through 1815. A smattering of current
fascist art may also sneak in. Unlikely and unwanted as fascism is (except as a
diversion) I will look at influences other than ones studded with the tag of "high art."
To stay awake.
On my upcoming Europe trip I will be traveling through six countries, and focusing on:
Italia. To prepare myself for this educational tour, I have spent time on the history,
art, and architecture--in short, culture--of Italy. After reading Europe 101 I
now have a basic grasp of Italian foundations and civilization. This history/art guide
has helped make sense of the apparent jumble called Europe--from caveman to modern
Reading Europe 101 has made this writer knowledgable about Italy and Europe.
As an indispensable guide, Europe 101 has helped to make sense of the continent I am
going to by covering the essentials: why, what, who, when and how of patronage,
purposes and people.
Since ancient Roman times, Italy has gone through quite a smorgasbord of art and
architecture. And its influence has been wide ranging. In structures throughout the old
Roman Empire, today's Germany, England and France one can see Romanesque.
Romanesque, the earliest major building style, featured thick walls, rounded arches
and small windows. Gothic architecture lived from 1150 to 1400 and is famous for its
pointed arches, thin walls, and large and numerous windows. Buildings sometimes have
several styles built into them due to changes in fashion during their construction,
which could span centuries. These centuries were the Dark Ages.
Only the solitary church influenced Middle Ages art. During the Middle, or Dark Ages,
mainstream support came from churches and monasteries across Europe. Artists
painted to subsist. They were anonymous makers of two-dimensional Biblical scenes on
wood and canvas. The church wanted simple visual representations of religion for its
The cultural themes of the Renaissance which show up in its paintings, sculptures,
and architecture usually glorify the goodness in man. Worshipping the good life came
more easily to people further south (in Europe's case, the Mediteranean, and especially,
the world hub Venice) who generally were more apt to party than their northern
neighbors. Peoples of colder climates were somewhat less interested in doing nothing
by enjoying life. Italy simply had the most couch potatos. (Ancient Rome!)
The Renaissance emerged in Italy. Its causes: a turn to realism and expression in art
by artists, money to pay for it from rich families, and demand. Smoothly and easily, the
iconoclasts of 2D church art shook hands with new patrons.
During the Renaissance a powerful Catholic Church, wealthy merchant patrons and
government commissioned art. (These were often the same thing.) The images of
artists mirror the tastes of the patrons, but unlike earlier periods, also the creators.
Ways and means of art veered away from the traditional. Artistic freedom--not
granted earlier--became a must; great artists like the big trio: Leonardo, Michelangelo,
and Raphael could turn away patrons with strict guidelines. However, this came during
the later part of the Renaissance. Artistic studies of nudes became commonplace. But
to appease the social order, the nudes became "David" or "Venus" or something
traditional. In this way, the church and other institutions would support the painters
The spirit of the Renaissance came in stages but its general gist was this: men are
good, and the balanced man of all-around talents embodied the true Renaissance man.
Never mind that David was the perfect man Michelangelo wanted for himself. (He is
supposed to have said to the finished statue "I wish you could talk.")
Three major artists of this time--and whose art we seek today --were Michelangelo,
Leonardo, and Raphael. Everyone competed for the time and toil of these three.
After the High Renaissance ended, other times emerged. The parade of Baroque,
Rococco and Neoclassical Art came. And modern.
Today, the modern Europe encompasses all of these art styles. It also reflects the
turmoil of the world wars, international communications headed by the English
language, and millions of tourists. For the latest in fashion, attend a Paris fashion
show. For contemporary art, peek into the Orsay museum of the same city.
Alternatively the art and science of war can be dissected at London's Imperial War
Museum. (No hands on demonstrations, however.)
I look forward to exploring the history, culture, people, places, and food of Europe. My
mind is open to all the possibilities; even with my research and background education,
there are guaranteed surprises. I'm pumped!