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Gestures and Hands in Art


Gestures and Hands in Art Some were better than others! Rudolph Wittkower s definitions of gesture in art – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Gestures and Hands in Art

Gestures and Hands in Art
  • Some were better than others!

Rudolph Wittkowers definitions of gesture in art
  • "We may perhaps differentiate between three
    pictorial types of gestures, namely between
    descriptive, symbolic, rhetorical.
  • "Descriptive gestures, like pointing, elucidate a
    story or narrative and are therefore needed when
    painting or sculpture have to deal with a
    literary theme.
  • "Rhetorical gestures reflect and illuminate
    emotional conditions.
  • "Symbolic gestures belong mainly to
    pre-Renaissance art from the 15th century on
    they are, as a rule, confined to such attitudes
    as blessing. I call this symbolic gesture
    because, in contrast to the rhetorical ones, we
    are faced with a code which must be known in
    order to be understood."
  • Rudolf Wittkower, Allegory and the Migration of
    Symbols (New York Thames and Hudson, 1977) 148.

Gestures in Art
  • 16th century Mannerist art and 17th century
    Baroque art depict figures whose gestures are
    active, even vigorous, and often communicate
    strong emotions. The lively gestures of the
    figures in Mannerist and Baroque art contrast
    with gestures of figures in Renaissance art of
    the previous 15th and early 16th centuries, whose
    bodies are posed to tend to be composed with more
    order and harmony.
  • Look at Mannerist and Baroque works by El Greco,
    Alessandro Vittoria, Bronzino, and Peter Paul

Introducing Hand Gestures
  • Speaking with our hands is something most of us
    do without even thinking it just happens!
  • Hand gestures can mean so many different things
    to different people in different situations.
  • Think about a simple wave of the hand what
    could that mean? Of course, the meaning differs
    depending on the speech which accompanies it,
    body language and facial expressions and also,
    importantly, the cultural, social, geographical
    and historical context of the gesture.

Hands in Art
  • Throughout the history of art hands in particular
    have played an important role in communicating
    meaning within paintings. The symbolism and
    gestures have changed their meaning as time has
    gone on, so sometimes there are messages buried
    within paintings which we need certain knowledge
    to understand, but which people long ago would
    have known immediately.

Hands in Renaissance Art
  • Leonardo da Vinci employed specific symbolism
    within the hand gestures in his paintings. This
    symbolism would have been easily understood by
    people in the 15th Century. Much of his work
    portrayed religious stories, because that was the
    tradition at the time and most art would have
    been commissioned by the church.

The Virgin of the Rocksby Leonardo da Vinci
  • In this painting, hand gestures give lots of
    information about the figures. The Virgin Marys
    outstretched hand protects the young baby John
    the Baptist, while his hands are closed in the
    form of a blessing towards the young baby Jesus,
    whose raised finger shows him blessing John in
    return. Marys left hand hovers protectively
    above Jesus and the angel points at John. The
    relationships and symbolism of each member of the
    group is clearly communicated through their hand
    gestures, some of which we instantly recognise
    and others may take a little more knowledge. For
    example, did you know that Jesuss finger gesture
    symbolised a blessing?.

Raphael Madonna and Child Paintings
  • Raphaels art came to represent an ideal of
    perfection, the very definition of easy grace and
    harmonious balance. In his many paintings of the
    Madonna with the Baby Jesus, he intertwines the
    two figures with their mutual gestures suggesting
    the bond, respect and interdependence between the
    two figures. Hand gestures are combined with
    directional glances and postures to focus the
    attention of the viewer onto specific parts of
    his paintings.

Hand Gestures in Baroque Art
  • Hand gestures in Baroque Art at times have very
    specific meaning. For example, in the work of
    Giorgione (one of the most prominent Baroque
    artists) we see portraits of women shown with one
    hand resting on her belly, whose rounded contours
    also suggest that she is expecting a child.
    However, it is possible that the symbolic gesture
    of a hand laid on the belly does not indicate
    that the sitter is pregnant, but rather predicts,
    or promises, a fertile marriage blessed with a
    large number of children.

Some who werent so good!
  • Even the most famous and sought-after artists had
    their weaknesses. Have you ever wondered why some
    portraits show people wearing gloves or have
    their hands hidden in pockets or waistcoats? Have
    a good look at some of the hands in paintings by
    Thomas Hudson and Rembrandt youll soon spot
    why they werent always a main part of the

Batonis Hands and Posture
  • Batoni, on the other hand(!), had really mastered
    the tricky business of painting hands and used
    them to add movement, meaning and feeling to his
    portraits. His portraits aimed to make the
    sitters look grand and truly at home in the
    splendour of Rome. His use of hand gestures and
    postures helped this. The term Swagger
    portraiture sums this up look at the confidence
    which this pose expresses (see next slide) the
    hand on hip and open stance tells us the sitter
    feels very much in charge and at ease. Imagine
    the type of posture that would make the sitter
    look threatened and anxious is it the opposite
    of the swagger posture?
  • In the portrait of John Rolle Walter, the hands
    are open and wide apart (see next slide) what
    do you think that represents?

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