Friday, April 24, 2015

The Isolation of Poverty

This exhibit seeks to portray the feelings of isolation and loneliness that come along with living in a state of poverty. This particular exhibit focuses on poverty in 17th century Italy. Poverty is a result of broken relationships in communities and thus is seen in artwork as something that separates a group of people from being part of the community. In calling attention to the presence of poverty in Italy, Stefano della Bella develops pieces that allow the viewer to feel the isolation of the subject, by using empty canvas space and dark contrasting lines that create a sense of permanent isolation and exhaustion. The viewer can almost feel the weight that the mother is carrying as she is hunched over caring for her children. This exhibit begins with a look into the children that are facing the daily struggles of poverty. What should be an innocent and carefree time of a child's life quickly becomes a time marked by the worries of simply trying to survive each day. As the exhibit progresses, the viewer can see the shift in the children depicted. The exhibit also goes into the withdrawal aspect that is present in poverty, which creates a sense of seclusiveness. In the next three etchings, the presence of other communities pictured in the background only adds to the sense of isolation that is being felt by the poor families. The different layers of isolation that are presented in this exhibit are specifically organized to show the depth at which poverty can affect a person. It begins with a recognition of innocence, continues with an obvious isolation from a nearby community, and then ends with utter exclusion from any other community. 

Stefano della Bella, Two Studies of Children, A Woman of Poverty with Infant on her Back, 1640 
Etching, Auckland Art Gallery, 1976/9/6

This etching emphasizes the innocence that is taken away from children when they have to live in poverty. The close up profile etches of the two children’s faces allow for the viewer to see the innocence and purity that should be a part of childhood. The third part of this etching depicts a mother and her children. The mother has a child on her back and another child is a few steps away from her. The viewer can almost feel the weight that the mother is feeling as she is hunched over and putting her weight on the cane in front of her. 

Stefano della Bella, Untitled: A poor woman and her children, date unknown
Etching, Auckland Art Gallery, M1982/1/1/12

In this etching, Stefano della Bella emphasizes the separation between the woman and children living in poverty and the two men on horseback. The men are placed farther away from the viewer as though they are off in the distance and unable to help the woman. The dog in the etching provides a fascinating twist of tranquility and peacefulness to the etching and seems to provide a certain level of acceptance of the lifestyle of poverty. This etching acts as a reminder that the poor will always be with us, the men on horseback are not drawn to the woman because they are so accustomed to people like her being around the town. Though they do not seem to be heading toward her to help her, there is still a hope that they may eventually make their way to her by simply their presence in the etching. 

Stefano della Bella, Plate 21: A Poor Woman to left, seen from behind, enveloping her child in a shawl, another woman seen from behind to left in background, a woman atop a horse and a man to right in background, 1644-1647
Etching, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.136.428.3

This etching creates a sense of isolation as it portrays the backs of four different figures. The only face that can be seen is the face of the baby asleep on his mother’s shoulders. Stefano della Bella uses dark etchings to create a sense of volume and heaviness in all of the figures so that they seem to be carrying a heavy burden. The backs of the figures creates a sense of leaving community as the figures are walking away from the viewer. The figures seem to be walking into a place unknown to them and entirely away from the community that they once knew. Again, Stefano della Bella portrays the burden of poverty as something that entirely isolates a person from the rest of the community. 

Stefano della Bella, A Woman Nursing Her Child under a Tree, 1649 
Etching, Harvard Art Museum, S7.137.bis.2

The subject of this etching is a woman and her child against a tree. Just like the other etchings, the woman seems to be far removed from the community around her and the only other figure and the animal in the etching both have their backs toward the woman. Again, this shows the isolation that living in poverty puts people in. They are rejected from society and no longer seem to have a place in the community. 

Stefano della Bella, Untitled: A poor woman, carrying a child..., date unknown 
Etching, Auckland Art Gallery, M1982/1/1/10 

This etching begins to close out the exhibit for several reasons. The city in the background shows that the family is entirely away from city community now. They are alone, and have to figure out what to do next. The oldest child is looking to his mother for guidance, as if asking ‘what next, Mom?’ Stefano della Bella successfully weighs down his subjects through the use of heavy etching in the bundle of a small child on the front of the mother. 

Stefano della Bella, Plate 22: a beggar woman with three children walking towards the left, one child on her shoulders, one child in her arms, and one child who walks in front of her to left, 1610-1647
Etching, Auckland Art Gallery, M1982/1/1/12

Beggar Woman with Three Children calls its viewers to have great empathy on the weary mother and her three children through the use of contrasting lines that create a sense of permanent isolation and exhaustion. The viewer can almost feel the weight that the mother is carrying as she is hunched over and carrying two of her children. The viewer can also feel the exhaustion of the mother as she is letting her oldest child lead her along. Despite the utter exhaustion and weight, the youngest child still seems to have a certain sense of innocence to him as he is the only character looking directly at the viewer. He has not yet been exposed to the hurt and pain in the world, and thus is unafraid to face the viewer. As the affects of poverty continue to affect a family, different roles are adopted by different family members. In this etching, the oldest child has become the leader in the family, letting go of the innocence of childhood and accepting the responsibility of leading his family. 

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