Art has commonly been known as a way to tell stories or to convey emotions, feelings, or ideas. Many such pieces rely on a refined sense of naturalism to convey these ideas. This naturalism allows the viewer to better relate and interact with a piece of art. Since the time of ancient Greece, many artists have tried to create a pieces of art, whether sculpture or canvas, that would capture a story, emotion, or idea and often times this was done through naturalism. Naturalism can be used as a tool by artists through a variety of mediums such as marble, bronze, and wood. Many artists have also achieved a surreal sense of naturalism in two dimensional pieces such as paintings or drawings. While some of these pieces are representational of an idea and are created from the imagination of the artist, others are portraits of people or a landscape and are made as an attempt to recreate what we see in the world. While viewing these pieces, ask yourself what the artist is attempting to convey through the piece. How would this work be viewed by the original audience? Is the artist displaying an idea or emotion? Is the work attempting to elicit a response from the viewer?
Mater Dolorosa, Pedro de Mena, ca. 1674–85, Partial-gilt polychrome wood, 2014.275.2
Pedro de Mena’s Mater Dolorosa or Our Lady of Sorrows is a Baroque style wooden sculpture that depicts the virgin Mary in a state of heartbreak and suffering as a result of the physical suffering of her son. The Mater Dolorosa has been described as “a pinnacle of naturalism and expressive force in the 17th-century Spain.” Pedro de Mena effectively uses polychrome wood, paint, glass eyes and hair to create a convincingly naturalistic representation of a heartbroken mother and invites the viewer to interpret the piece in a slow and methodical manner.
Laocoön and His Sons, Unknown, 40-30 B.C., Marble, Cat. 1059 Vatican
Laocoön and His Sons is a sculpture depicting the struggle of a Trojan priest and his two sons. It has been described as a masterpiece of the sculptors of Rhodes and also as an icon for human agony. This piece is one of the most famous ancient sculptures in the world for good reason. The artist behind this masterpiece created a piece that features an incredible display of naturalism as well as telling a story and creating movement in the mind of the viewer. The variety and contrast in texture pulls together the piece as a composition while the body of the snake draws the eye of the viewer across the piece.
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, ca 1503-06, Oil on canvas, Louvre
The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous works of art in the world. This piece is believed to have been commissioned as a portrait of the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Leonardo de Vinci continued to work on this piece until 1517 as it became a sort of obsession of his. Da Vinci was a master of naturalism and showed off his skill in this piece with his incredible eye for detail in the woman herself and also the landscaped background.
Augustus of Prima Porta, Unknown, 1st Century AD, Marble, Cat. 2290 Vatican
Augustus of Prima Porta is a sculpture of the emperor himself in an ultimate state of command. The armor and rolls of fabric display the emperor as a Roman officer and the outstretched arm clearly sets him in the midst of a command to his troops. On the outside of the right ankle is a small sculpture of Cupid riding a Dolphin. This is meant to elevate the emperor past a simple man to a place where he is with and one with the gods. The stance of the man, along with the outstretched arm, gives the viewer the illusion of implied movement and activates the space in front of the piece.
Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze, 1851, Oil on canvas, 97.34
Washington Crossing the Delaware depicts one of the United States’ greatest moments as General Washington leads an attack against the Hessians at Trenton. This painting is meant to bring the viewer a sense of pride or nationalism. The view of the small boats on the ice river convey difficulty but the confident and stoic stance of General Washington gives the viewer an idea of what will come after this captured moment. Emanuel Leutze uses his skill to capture a moment of history in a way that draws us in and allows them to interact with the moment.
Untitled, Allison Vaught, 2017, Raku clay and Plaster wash
This sculpture was made as a Senior project by Allison Vaught as a representation of the pain of her mother who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and Trigeminal Neuralgia. Although Allison was not trying to simply make a portrait of her mother, she was trying to capture a moment that was all to familiar to herself and her family. She invites the viewer to take part in the emotions that her family has felt by creating a naturalistic and almost life sized representation of this pain. Allison says “The struggle to learn how to empathize with my mom reflects a broader struggle to love my neighbor.”