DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt

2010/11/22

Flanking Figures

Far Side of the Moon with Flanking Figures, 2010, by Fred Hatt

I made these two large reclining nudes, each one 48″ x 30″, with the idea that they would be flanking figures, a human frame for some significant object or image.  They could be on either side of a mirror or a portrait or a proscenium stage.  They could be facing center or away from center.  For me these figures have a lunar quality, so here I have used them to bracket an image of the far side of the moon.

[Tangent:  The far side of the moon was a complete mystery before the era of space flight, as the moon always turns the same face towards Earth, and of course people imagined that it hid alien civilizations or other exotic marvels.  Even now this distant hemisphere is unfamiliar to most of us.  The far side of the moon is mountainous and heavily pocked with craters, and lacks the great “seas” or mare that give the near face the dark patches that we see as the man in the moon, the rabbit, or whatever it is supposed to resemble.  The face that is turned away can be a symbol of the unseen aspect of things.  Here is an interactive map of both sides of the moon, and here’s the source for the moon map used in the illustration at the top of this post.]

Allegorical flanking figures of this sort are a fusty old iconographic tradition.  The ones I had in mind were the figures of Dawn and Dusk on the tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici, in the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, designed and sculpted by Michelangelo.  The chapel also features a similar idealized portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici, accompanied by figures called Night and Day.  These nudes, named as embodiments of cycles of nature and shown reclining at the feet of the enthroned noblemen, exalt their central figures by portraying them as masters over Nature itself.  Those Medicis were as self-aggrandizing as Trump!

Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, c. 1530, by Michelangelo

This kind of arrangement of human images embodying abstract concepts became a standard trope in public art.  Here are the figures over the entrance to the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court in London, by sculptor F.W. Pomeroy.  In the middle is the Recording Angel, lurking under a hood and looking far more intimidating than most of the court stenographers I’ve seen.  On the left is Fortitude, with a sword, and on the right, Truth, with a mirror.

Allegorical Figures, Old Bailey Central Criminal Court, London, 1907, sculptures by F. W. Pomeroy

Allegorical flanking figures became such a cliché in the depiction of official power that they are a frequent feature of the engraved headings of stock certificates, such as this one for Shell Oil, Inc.

Shell Oil Company stock certificate engraving, 1975

The tradition probably originates with Medieval Heraldry.  A coat of arms often shows a shield with symbolic emblems or colors, held up on either side by what some cultures would call power animals, such as Great Britain’s lion and unicorn.  Here’s a lovely new variation on the theme, the official coat of arms of Nunavut, the Inuit province of Northern Canada.  The symbolic animals are the caribou and the narwhal.

Coat of Arms of the Province of Nunavut, Canada

Christian religious painting also frequently includes figures flanking a central personage.  The sidekicks may be angels, saints, or the donor who funded the artwork.  It naturally occurs in crucifixions, in which Jesus is often shown between the two crucified thieves, as in this Mantegna painting.

Crucifixion, 1459, by Andrea Mantegna

Raphael omitted the thieves, but framed Jesus between two angels, representations of the sun and moon, and one kneeling and one standing figure on each side.  Clearly the idea here is to convey the centrality of the Christ.

Crucifixion, 1503. by Raphael

I can’t tell you why I was drawn to such a thoroughly old-fashioned figurative motif.  I suppose applying my loose and energetic style to neoclassical subject matter seemed an interesting variation on improvised compositions and experimental process.  Here are some closer looks at these two drawings.  The models are Yuko and Jeremiah.  Let me know if you have anything that needs to be exalted by being displayed in between allegorical figures!

Waning Moon, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt

My works shown here are aquarelle drawings on black paper, each 48″ high by 30″ wide.  All the other images were found on the web, and clicking on the images will take you to the sites where I found them.

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