Thursday, January 21, 2016

Discovering My Own Version of "Figura Serpentinata"

The Delphic Sybil by Michelangelo [source]

Happy Thursday!

Today's inspiration comes from a fantastic podcast I stumbled upon entitled "How the Brain Tells Real from Fake: From Fine Wine to Fine Art" on NPR's show "The Hidden Brain" with Shankar Vedantam.  

The podcast mentions the use of artist's "preparatory art work", and how each piece basically starts as a blueprint for the final piece. Yep, makes sense to me.  I have many "blueprints" floating around the studio right now!  All ready to eventually become crafted into finished pieces :) Moving on...

Here's a snippet of my favorite part of the podcast transcript that inspired me to learn more about Michelangelo's "blueprint" process and his anatomical creations:  

"Artists, when they're coming up with the concept, or inventione, of the artwork, will do various sketches to try to get a composition that they like. And the composition of this preparatory drawing is actually in the shape of an S. It's something called figura serpentinata, which was described by Michelangelo as the most beautiful form in nature. The flickering of a candle flame is supposed to be the positioning of the bodies that is the most elegant."

"Ooooh!"  I thought.  "I must learn more about this figura serpentinata, maybe I should try it in my mixed media pieces!"  I did a little research, and sure enough -- there is a notable S shape in Michelangelo's figures, in both male and female bodies.  Definitely never noticed this when I saw the Sistine Chapel in Roma back in '03!  

A Sibila Líbia by Michelangelo with "S" shape that I bubbled in

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo with "S" shape that I bubbled in

As I've mentioned before, I don't have an art history background or a fine arts degree.  What I do have is a raging artistic intrigue.  In playing around with the anatomy of the people in my latest mixed media creations, I was drawn to a particular figure style.  After learning about "figura serpentina", I got thinking about why I create my figures in the fashion that I do and why they feel the most natural to me.

For example, I think the way I create my figures is very imperfect, but that's ok because that's the look I'm actually going for.  There's art in the imperfection, or at least that's my interpretation.  Can't quite explain it, but they just feel like the right shapes for what I'm trying to visually convey.  If I wanted to make my figures anatomically correct, I could, but I see no need because I'd lose an element of curiosity.  Are my womens' arms too long and hands maybe too dainty/borderline alien-eqsue?  Perhaps, but that's the point.  I make them that way for a reason because I'm exaggerating these features to create an effect.  Same thing goes for the mens' cape-like over coats with very broad shoulders.  That last two elements to note is how I'm inclined to paint my figures as faceless and with their backs turned because I think it adds more mystery

Will I try the classic figura serpentinata in my pieces?  Probably not.  I'm sticking with what works for me and seeing this as a unique gift, just as Michelangelo stuck with what worked for him.   If I had to give my blueprint body type a name, I think I'd call it "figura fiducia", which translates roughly to "confidence figure" because I want my characters to radiate confidence.
"Figura Fiducia" in its finest form (that sounds legit, right?)

 I'll end with this quote by the master:

And a Renaissance "remix".  Definitely crank this jam at your next Medieval house party:

"Medieval Music "Hardcore Party Mix" via YouTube



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