Question about Proportionality in Art
When Scholastic philosophy lays down that one sign of beauty in fine art is proportionality, does proportionality mean proportional in a realistic sense (artistically, not philosophically)?

I ask because I think of most medieval art and Eastern iconography that deliberately exaggerate certain features for specific effect and what might seem disproportionate to us is perfectly fine considering context. I also am thinking of a good amount of Renaissance paintings where things might seem proportionally off to us but only on the assumption that we take proportionality to mean realistic, which I love by the way (
Hmm good question! Wondering this too now... In any case Cubism is out then  :P  :LOL:
I think I have found my answer in Maritain's Art and Scholasticism:

It is the same with proportion, fitness and harmony. They are diversified according to the objects and according to the ends. The good proportion of a man is not the good proportion of a child. Figures constructed according to the Greek or the Egyptian canons are perfectly proportioned in their genre; but Rouault's clowns are also perfectly proportioned, in their genre. Integrity and proportion have no absolute signification,[61] and must be understood solely in relation to the end of the work, which is to make a form shine on matter.

Footnote 61 says:

Let us note that the conditions of the beautiful are much more strictly determined in nature than in art, the end of natural beings and the formal radiance which can shine in them being themselves much more strictly determined than those of works of art. In nature, for instance, there is assuredly a perfect type (whether we recognize it or not) of the proportions of the male or female body, because the natural end of the human organism is something fixed and invariably determined. But the beauty of a work of art not being the beauty of the object represented, painting and sculpture are in no way bound to the determined proportions and to the imitation of such a type. The art of pagan antiquity thought itself so bound because of an extrinsic condition, because it represented above all the gods of an anthropomorphic religion.


I do wonder what Maritain means by the "perfect type of the proportions of the male or female body." He also writes above, "The least sketch of da Vinci's or even of Rodin's is more complete than the most perfect Bouguereau," and I really wonder what he means by this in relation to the notion of integrity in beauty. I must have a very different notion of integrity than Maritain because the sketches don't seem integral at all to me.
There's a lot about it in Umberto Eco's "The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas" but it's been a while since I've read any of it.

The Medievals meant something a little different by proportion than we do. When we say proportion in art, we think of literal human proportions and making everything to scale.  They meant something more related to harmony than anatomy.  Visual elements of the piece that are proportional to one another in a certain ratio are harmonious to the eye in the same way that when the string of a musical instrument is pressed down in certain ratios of length, the tones it makes are harmonious to the ear:

For example, Gothic cathedrals are beautiful because they are proportional...all of the proportions of one building are derived from the same triangle or square so every part of the structure has a proportional relationship to every other part:

[Image: 2.gif]
One thing that is for sure that proportions are always relative to the medium in which an artists is working. When proportion is taken as the ruling principal, you get unrealistic and even strange looking pictures. Regardless if proportion is 'realistic' or not, Maritain seems to saying that each artist within his own medium creates his own sense of proportion. El Greco, for example, is famous for his elongated figures, but he respects the proportions of the canvas, even draws inspiration from it, while keeping the relation of the figures in an overall proportional harmony.

As far as taste goes, I agree with him. I find Bouguereau at his best when proportion takes a back seat:

[Image: pieta_bouguereau.jpg]

Whether the angel's arms at the top are exactly anatomically proportionate or not doesn't matter, because they are in perfect proportion to the overall painting.

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)