Preceding the illustrious masters of the Renaissance, Guariento di Arpo demonstrated his adroitness as a painter by forming a grandiose version of the Coronation of the Virgin. Chronicling the experimental era of art in the 1300s, the altarpiece’s 86 by 104-3/8 inch stature certainly awed the religious figures who commissioned this ornament for their church. Created in an era where most citizens were illiterate, the altarpiece probably served as a visual narrative for the church attendees who were deprived of the knowledge needed to read. Painted on numerous panels, this polyptych utilizes the use of Tempera paint and gold leaf to resemble the Byzantine influence on Guariento. However, since the Gothic influence lethargically invaded Italy there was an infusion on both art styles that exudes the experimental nature of di Arpos mind.
Relying on my amateur perspective of the painting, the central panel seems to be focused around Jesus and what I presume to be the Virgin Mary. Holistically, this altar painting is a devotional piece of work that is meant to praise the story of Jesus while simultaneously inciting a feeling of repentance for those who view this art work. Since it was created with the sole intent to be placed within an altar, it was di Arpo’s duty to form a work of art that’s visually captivating as well as informative. There are a total of twenty-four individual pieces that represent the story of Christ. The most critical seems to be the largest panel in which it shows an image of Christ bestowing a crown upon the Virgin Mary’s head. I can assume that it’s symbolically stating the fact that the Virgin Mary is now the link between the mortal beings and God. The two figures are floating in mid-air while they are being heralded by angels who are placed near their heads. It is evident that these figures are celestial beings due to the incorporation of halos within each character. Moving further down the panel, there are a plethora of angels who gaze up in amazement over the event.
The color that di Arpo uses in the panel is warm and inviting assumingly pandering to the audience who want to marvel at such a grand piece of art. Scattered within the panels, there are circular spaces that include the images of arbitrary saints. Each one of these saints is painted in the direction of the center altar piece further proving my hypothesis that the central theme is incorporated in the middle panel. The line of narratives that are shown on the left panel starts with the image of Jesus cradled by a cloth in a manager which is alluding to the nativity story. Consequently, the panel next to that shows an image of the three wise men who give Jesus their gifts from God. The picture on the middle left then portrays the kiss of Judas that Jesus receives which ultimately led to his demise. Logically, the next scene that came afterwards is the whipping of the Lord by the government appointed soldiers.
Moreover, the bottom image on the left panel show Mary Magdalene who wept up the blood of Jesus after he was whipped by the soldiers. The red cloth on her back symbolizes the towel that she used to clean up the holy blood of Jesus. Lastly, the resurrection of Christ is then portrayed on the left, bottom right image as he is praised by both the damned and his followers. On the right panel it portrays the numerous anecdotes about Jesus and his crucifixion. I think that the pivotal aspect of the right panel is the bottom right image which shows Jesus being lifted up into heaven by these cherub-esque angels. The portrait of Jesus is floating in mid-air validating the assumption that he is the son of God.
Commenting on Di Arpo’s technique, his brilliance lays with his fusion of Gothic and late-Byzantine techniques. In the center panel, the image of Jesus and the Virgin Mary is shown to be floating amongst the angels. The placement of their bodies is to the middle as to emphasize their importance along with their size. The more pivotal characters to the story like Jesus and the Virgin Mary are heavily weighted down at the bottom sharply contrasting from the lighter, less recognized figures. The halos that are placed around their head is reminiscent of the Byzantine style along with the gilded background, meant to represent the heavenly realm, seems to dominate the entire piece of work. Consequently, di Arpo incorporates the use of line as shown by the right panel’s bottom image. Di Arpo also utilizes color to differentiate between the characters of the story.
The Virgin Mary is dressed in a royal blue coating that is lined with gold, seemingly emphasizing her importance. Blue is a color that is associated with heaven and the wisdom of humans, suggesting that she is the perfect human to be crowned the mediator between the heavens and the mortal world. In the scene including Mary Magdalene, she is represented in red as is symbolizes the blood that she had soaked up in order to preserve Christ’s holiness. Moreover, Judas is represented in the color yellow which symbolizes cowardice within a person. The act of betrayal that Judas bestowed upon Jesus shows his lack of courage to stand up for his beliefs. Along with the use of color, di Arpo demonstrates a realistic portrayal of human emotion within the painting. Working with such an emotion-evoking panel calls for the use of realism to incite the same horrified reaction with the audience.
In Christ’s most emotionally driven scenes like the crucifixion and the deposition, we see the distraught look in the character’s face as their lord is experiencing the punishment meant for the sinners. Di Arpo anticipates the use of realism in this piece of work as this technique is more commonly utilized during the Renaissance. He adds weight to the characters to create the illusion of a realistic human form. In addition to the formation of the human shape, di Arpo paints clothing in the way that it clings and moves along with the body as opposed to just hanging. The movements that the characters are performing left them in a twisted stance giving rise to the use of contrapposto. Contributing to di Arpos experimentation of technique, he interplays the use of light and dark to create shadows along the outlines of the figures in order to create a sense of volume. The toying between shades is reminiscent of chiaroscuro although its use is not as prominent compared to other artists.
Due to the highly religious era that di Arpo lived in, works of art commissioned by the church was extremely common. His portrayal of Christ’s narrative is depicted in a realistic style that it conveys the raw human emotion assumedly experienced by the individuals who resided in Jesus’ era. Consequently, any churchgoer in the thirteen hundreds was likely to feel the same heartbreak over seeing their Lord crucified for their sins.
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