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  • - [Steven] We're in the National Gallery in London,

  • standing in front of Giovanni Bellini's

  • the Madonna of the Meadow.

  • This is a Renaissance painting from Venice.

  • But we wanted to talk about it,

  • as a vehicle to highlight the tools of visual analysis.

  • - [Beth] So here's what we're not gonna talk about.

  • We're not gonna talk about iconography,

  • how this painting fits in with the history of paintings

  • of the Madonna and Child.

  • We're not gonna talk about the symbolism that we might see

  • in some of the animals in the background.

  • We're not gonna talk about the commission

  • or who the patron was.

  • - [Steven] We're not gonna talk about the political,

  • social, or economic context in which this painting was made.

  • Instead we're gonna focus on the things we can see.

  • So we're gonna talk about scale, composition,

  • pictorial space, form, line, color,

  • light, tone, texture, and pattern.

  • - [Beth] Let's start with the issue of scale.

  • So here we can talk about the scale of the painting,

  • and the scale of the figures,

  • and what we see in the painting.

  • - [Steven] Well, we're in a gallery with paintings

  • of all different sizes, there are very large altar pieces,

  • and there are some very small paintings as well.

  • This is a moderately sized painting,

  • and that changes where we stand

  • in relationship to the painting.

  • When you stand in front of a very large painting,

  • you tend to stand back, we want to take it all in.

  • Whereas when you walk up to a very small painting,

  • we tend to come in very close, to see as much as we can.

  • - [Beth] We see a female figure

  • who's smaller than life size.

  • - [Steven] But she fills a third of the frame.

  • - [Beth] And that brings us to the composition.

  • Not only does she fill a third of the frame,

  • but the clothing that she's wearing, the drapery spreads out

  • across the bottom length of the painting.

  • - [Steven] Creating, in essence, a pyramid.

  • The base of a pyramid is broad.

  • - [Beth] And pyramids are a very stable form.

  • We also notice that the child in her lap is contained

  • within the pyramidal shape of her body.

  • So there is a intimacy that is created

  • between the female figure and the child.

  • - [Steven] The artist has placed her very close

  • to the foreground, so that she towers over the horizon line,

  • and is clearly the primary subject.

  • But there is also a significant amount of landscape

  • that surrounds her, that, in a sense, frames her.

  • Bellini has created this pyramidal foreground,

  • in front of a series of what are really horizontal bands,

  • that move back into space.

  • You see a band in the foreground of greenery,

  • then there's a band of pebbles,

  • then there's a band of tilled farmland,

  • and even the clouds create horizontal bands in the sky.

  • - [Beth] She's framed on one side by trees,

  • and on the other side by the vertical forms

  • of the architecture.

  • - [Steven] Another way we can talk about composition,

  • is to think about the way in which the artist

  • has composed the bodies of the figures.

  • Look at the lovely, gentle tilt to the Virgin Mary's head,

  • which corresponds to the angle of the Christ Child's head.

  • But I'm also struck by the volume in between the hands

  • of the Virgin Mary, who holds her fingertips together,

  • defining an internal space, that has the same kind of volume

  • as her own head and that of the child.

  • - [Beth] The diagonal line that forms the slope

  • of her right shoulder corresponds to the diagonal line

  • of her forearm, and the diagonal line of the child's body.

  • So we have this echoing of forms,

  • that helps to unify the composition.

  • - [Steven] Let's turn next to pictorial space.

  • - [Beth] We should acknowledge

  • that we're looking at a flat surface.

  • And that what the artist is doing

  • is creating an illusion of three-dimensional form

  • and an illusion of space on this flat surface.

  • Let's start with the figure,

  • she's seated on the ground with the child on her lap.

  • So we have, immediately, a sense of one thing

  • in front of another because of overlapping.

  • - [Steven] But in addition, the pictorial space

  • is defined by what we would call

  • atmospheric and linear perspective.

  • If we look at the sky at the top of the painting,

  • the sky that is closest to us, it has deep, rich blues.

  • And as the sky moves back in space,

  • towards the horizon, it becomes paler.

  • Look at the mountains in the distance,

  • how they've become paler and bluer.

  • This is a technique that's meant to replicate

  • the natural phenomena of looking at a great distance,

  • looking through more atmosphere.

  • Details become less vivid, color becomes paler,

  • things become bluer.

  • - [Beth] We also notice a little bit of linear perspective

  • if we look at the plowed field.

  • Where we see diagonal lines that appear to recede

  • into the distance, that lead our eye back into space.

  • - [Steven] Those lines are called orthogonals.

  • They meet at a vanishing point,

  • which in the context of this painting,

  • is obscured by the Virgin Mary and Child in the foreground.

  • But which nevertheless creates a sense of logic,

  • and places us, the viewer, in a particular point in space,

  • in relationship to the image that we're seeing.

  • - [Beth] Let's turn next to the question of form.

  • - [Steven] Generally, when we speak about form,

  • we're thinking about the representation of solids in space,

  • and it's instructive to think

  • about the variety of types of form

  • that the artist is representing.

  • - [Beth] Well we have the natural forms, we have trees,

  • and grass, and fields, and mountains, and clouds.

  • We also have figurative forms,

  • the Madonna and Child in the foreground,

  • but we also have built forms,

  • we have the architecture in the background.

  • Some of these forms are rounded and curvilinear,

  • like the Virgin Mary and the the Christ Child,

  • or even the clouds.

  • And some of them are rectilinear like the architecture

  • in the background.

  • - [Steven] Some of them feel very solid,

  • like the figures in the foreground.

  • And some of the form is far more delicate,

  • look at the handling, for example,

  • of the leaves on the trees.

  • - [Beth] Those forms are established

  • just by touches of color from the artist's brush.

  • - [Steven] Now form is often defined by line.

  • - [Beth] And, in fact, there are contour lines used

  • to demarcate and separate forms.

  • So, for example, separating the Virgin Mary's drapery

  • from the grass that she sits on.

  • And we also have places where we have line on its own,

  • for example, in the branches of the tree.

  • Line is also sometimes the corners of forms,

  • I'm looking at the line that forms the edge

  • of the squared turret.

  • - [Steven] Next we wanted to talk about color.

  • - [Beth] One is immediately struck by the rich blue

  • of the Virgin's mantle.

  • But also the deep blue of the sky.

  • And that contrast with the earth colors,

  • the browns and the greens that we see in the fields

  • around and behind her.

  • - [Steven] There are essentially three main color groups.

  • There's the brilliant blue of the Virgin's mantle,

  • of the sky, of the mountains.

  • There's the red of her undergarment.

  • And then there's the yellows of the flesh,

  • of the fields, and of the architecture.

  • These are the three primary colors.

  • - [Beth] We see white in the shawl that she wears

  • around her head, and also in the clouds.

  • So Mary is connected with the heavens.

  • - [Steven] Color is in someways a function of light,

  • and here the artist has created a sense

  • of the broad light of a clear day.

  • - [Beth] The light from the sun seems

  • to be coming from the left, maybe a little bit forward

  • from the figures.

  • - [Steven] And high in the sky.

  • - [Beth] And we see the clouds illuminated from above,

  • there in shadow below, similarly with the Virgin Mary,

  • if we look at her right forearm,

  • it's illuminated from above, but in shadow below.