Welcome to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, I’ll be writing to Paolo Uccelli (1397 – 1475), or “Paul of the Birds”.Uccelli will be accompanied by the Two Cellos playing Game of Thrones
So strap on your seat belts. We’re boarding the time machine and heading back to early Renaissance Florence. By the way, the term Renaissance means rebirth. and to give you a quick insight into Paolo Uccelli, he was concerned with achieving with linear perspective, something which hasn’t really crossed my mind so I’m in for a steep learning curve.
Rather than going into much biographical detail about Uccelli, I’m going to place him in a very loose historical context. While there’s naturally debate about The Renaissance, it roughly started in Florence around 1350-1400. Paulo Uccelli was born in 1397 and died in 1475 only 17 years before Colombus “discovered the “New World” in 1492. Florence’s Cathedrale di Santa Maria de Fiore was completed in 1436, during Uccelli’s life time. Botticelli was born in 1445 and died in 1510. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in 1452 in near Vinci in Tuscany and died in 1519 in France. Michelangelo was born in 1475… the year Uccelli died.
According to Vasari, Uccello’s first painting was a Saint Anthony between the saints Cosmas and Damianus, a commission for the hospital of Lelmo. Next, he painted two figures in the convent of Annalena. Shortly afterwards, he painted three frescoes with scenes from
anta Maria Maggiore church, he painted a fresco of the Annunciation. In this fresco, he painted a large building with columns in perspective. According to Vasari, people found this to be a great and beautiful achievement because this was the first example of how lines could be expertly used to demonstrate perspective and size. As a result, this work became a model for artists who wished to craft illusions of space in order to enhance the realness of their paintings.1.
One aspect of Uccello’s work that writers have not failed to praise is his imaginative and innovative imagery, replete with fantastically elaborate dragons, fierce thunderstorms, the pageantry of war, and the elegance of the Renaissance hunt 2.
When it comes to most of the artists in this series, we’ve had “history”. Thank goodness, we’re only talking about falling in love with their paintings and sculptures, and not with the artists themselves. Or, I’d be in huge trouble with my husband. Putting the shoe on the other foot, goodness know how I’d feel if he ran off with 26 artists for the month. Let’s just say there would be a “discussion” at the very least.
On the other hand, when it came to choosing Paolo Uccelli, is was more of a lucky dip because I didn’t know any artists starting with “U”. However, there’s nothing like turning a challenge into an opportunity, is there? Could I actually find a connection with Uccelli’s art after plucking his name out of a hat? That remained to be seen. First, I had to check out his paintings, and get to know what I could about the man. A man who died in 1475 and 563 years ago and all I really have to go on is Giorgio Vasari’s biography, written 75 years after Paolo’s death, and a few contemporary official documents. Indeed, it would easier to get to know the man on the moon.
Yet, all it takes is an angle and a hook and from there, you can launch a journey of a thousand miles. On the other hand, you can also end up in a dead-end before you’ve even got started. It’s all in the luck of the draw as well as just how persistent you are as a researcher and conversationalist. Can you draw blood from a stone or a dead artist who could be very determined to conceal their secrets.
When it comes to understanding Uccelli, it’s all a matter of PERSPECTIVE. That is, the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.
However, if you’ve ever seen me try to park my car, you’ll know that my spatial skills are abysmal. Moreover, while my husband will tell you I can’t navigate or read a map, our son would just snatch the map away and give up on me in disgust.
So, you could say I have a lot of learn about perspective.
However, that’s another story.
What I wanted to understand was why perspective was such a big deal to Renaissance artists. Surely, perspective was kind of obvious…what’s close up appears larger than the stuff in the distance or further away. However, that also depends on your world view. You see, during the medieval period, a person or object who was more important, was often larger than a less significant person who might’ve been standing closer. That’s putting it very simply, but if you’re anything like me when it comes to geometry and maths, I need to keep it very slow and s-i-m-p-l-e.
In about 1413 there was a big breakthrough in art when a contemporary of Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective, used today by artists, by painting the outlines of various Florentine buildings onto a mirror. When the building’s outline was continued, he noticed that all of the lines converged on the horizon line. According to Vasari, he then set up a demonstration of his painting of the Baptistery in the incomplete doorway of the Duomo. He had the viewer look through a small hole on the back of the painting, facing the Baptistery. He would then set up a mirror, facing the viewer, which reflected his painting. To the viewer, the painting of the Baptistery and the building itself were nearly indistinguishable. Soon after, nearly every artist in Florence and in Italy used geometrical perspective in their paintings, notably Paolo Uccello, Masolino da Panicale and Donatello.
Speaking abut Renaissance sculptor Donatello, Uccello and Donatello were long term friends, and Uccello even named his son after him.
Letter to Paolo Uccello
I hope you don’t mind me popping in on you like this out of the blue. Of course, even a dead artist should be allowed to rest in peace, but are you getting bored? After all, you were living in Florence during the early Renaissance, when humanity was just waking up from years of repression and a very long sleep. Indeed, humanity was thirsting for knowledge, and it was such a time of human discovery and awakening. You were there. Not on the periphery of it all. You were there in Florence at the very epicentre of it all. What was it like?
Today, I was reading about the Renaissance and how humanity had lost all the knowledge of the mighty Greek and Roman civilizations for a thousand years. That’s not to say, nothing was going on during those so-called Dark Ages, but it is a healthy reminder that what goes up, can come down and we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. How much would it take to destroy much of our centres of learning? There’s the nuclear threat, global warming, but what about a computer virus? A lightening bolt up in the cloud? Then they’ll be saying “Blessed are the book hoarders, for they will have knowledge.”
By the way, I thought I’d enclose a current world map, along with a copy of Ortelius’s WorldMap from 1570 so you can get a bit of a comparison. If you look down towards the bottom of the map, you’ll find Australia and I’m from Sydney, a beautiful city with its stunning harbour, Harbour Bridge and Opera House all coming together to make a perfect postcard. Hope you like it.
Well, I’ve been so engrossed in the Renaissance, that I haven’t been able to make my ANZAC biscuits. Tomorrow is ANZAC Day here where we honour those who have served our country, especially those you made the ultimate sacrifice.
I look forward to hearing from you!
A Letter From Paolo Uccelli
Thank goodness you wrote to me. I can’t tell you what it’s been like being cut off from the happenings on Earth for so long. Of course, we have quite an artists fraternity up here, and even Heaven has it’s prima donnas always wanting their portraits done. I’m afraid there’s no such thing as a selfie up here, although I could think of a few good uses for the stick, especially if you could attach an electric current!
I actually have a question for you, Rowena. What happens when you lose perspective? My entire life’s mission was to find perspective, and now humans are throwing that all away. Humph! That Jackson Pollock and I…Let’s just say were seated poles apart up here at the dinner table. That man was something of a rogue barbarian splashing his paint around like that, without any respect for the rules. You know what really breaks my heart, is the extraordinary price tag humanity has attached to that rubbish when mine works are worth a fraction of the price. Indeed, one of mine ended up in a charity shop in Bondi the other day, simply because someone was decluttering. I bought it back and hid it. You’re not getting it back.
Anyway, as I said, what happens when you lose perspective? Not just in a painting or in your own life, but as a civilization?
Civilizations can rise up, but just as easily fall down. Your generation takes too much for granted, and has become lazy. Why can’t you walk, instead of burning up the planet wasting so much petrol? You only have two feet, so why do you have enough shoes for an army? You’ll end up consuming the Earth.
Hey, but what would I know? I’m just a Renaissance Man!
PS: Could you please send me one of those cheeky white cockatoos with the yellow crest? I’d love to teach it to speak and stir up Leonardo. He works so hard and could use a funny distraction.