The Flight into Egypt, c. 1140-144 and Holofernes’ Army Crossing the Euphrates River, c. 1245 are among the Gothic arts that were painted on stained glass windows of Gothic cathedrals. The architecture of the cathedrals provided for tall walls where stained glass windows with paintings of stories in Apocryphal books were mounted. The Holofernes’ Army Crossing the Euphrates River medallion was located in Saint- Chappelle Chapel in Italy. The medallion was located in a window of the chapel dedicated to the Apocryphal book of Judith (The Judith window). The medallion illustrates the biblical verse in the book of Judith where an army was crossing the Euphrates River to Mesopotamia. The Flight into Egypt illustration illustrates the biblical narrative when Mary and Joseph together with their son Jesus escaped into Egypt. The illustration was located in Abby church of Saint Dennis. It was the first Gothic styled cathedral and provided a blueprint for the others. Painted and stained glass window pieces of art were made by joining different pieces of stained glass bearing illustrations of objects using lead limes. Besides, special paints could also be used to paint on the glasses directly (Klaus and Charles 14). Lead lines are clearly seen in the original stained glass illustrations. These illustrations were described as the “Bible of the poor” because they helped the poor who did not know how to read and write to learn about the scriptures (Carl and Charles 14-16). The linear, color, pictures, and symbols provided rich information to the people. The creators of the Holfrernes Army Crossing the Euphrates River and The Flight into Egypt pieces of art use asymmetrical composition, shapes, high contrast, and lines to provide illustrations of Apocryphal Gospel narratives.
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The two pieces of art are similar in a way that they both have asymmetrical composition of elements which brings out their narrative element. In asymmetrical composition, the elements in the piece of art are dissimilar and are unlikely to be repeated. This form of composition is different from symmetrical by the fact that the latter uses similar components that are repeated creating mirror images when the overall composition is divided into two. In the Flight into Egypt piece of art, the creator uses dissimilar of components which include three figures representing the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph, and infant Jesus), and the other components represent a horse, palm tree, and costumes. In the Holoferenes Army Crossing the Euphrates piece of art there are more than two figures representing soldiers and other components representing horses, banners, water, and the sky. Combination of these elements creates an asymmetrical composition and is likely to suggest that something is happening unlike sculptures that are always symmetrical and unlikely to tell a story. Artists understand the need of balance in a piece of art. To bring an asymmetrical composition to balance, artists always arrange the dissimilar components in a way that creates an asymmetrical balance (Pentak and David 98). This can be achieved through proper utilization of space which is evident in these two pieces of arts. The components are evenly distributed filling the entire space. Asymmetrical composition evokes an emotional mood. Emotional active perceptions are seen in these pieces of arts. In the Flight into Egypt piece of art, the Holy Family is escaping into Egypt while in the Holoferenes Army Crossing the Euphrates piece of art, it looks like the army is going to war. Emotions in an asymmetrical composition are well explained in combination with lines.
The use of lines in the two asymmetrically composed pieces of arts greatly contributes to the narration and expression of emotions in the two pieces of art. According to Fichner Rathus, lines create effects ranging from calm or a conflicting stability to an intensive, undivided energy (28). Lines could be unidentifiable (implied) or can be visually identified. Different lines communicate differently. Lines provide a path created by an element moving in space. This path leads the eyes of the viewer around the composition of an art and communicates information. Therefore, lines can either imply a sense of motion or stability. In the Flight into Egypt artwork, both implied vertical and horizontal lines can be identified while in the Holoferenes Army Crossing the Euphrates River artwork diagonal, zigzag, and horizontal lines can be implied. Vertical lines communicate a sense of height. In the Gothic cathedrals architecture vertical lines implied calmness, peace, and spiritualty as worshipers lifted their eyes from the ground upwards. In the Flight to Egypt piece of art, the palm tree is above the ground and it visualized that the female figure, Mary is picking a fruit from it. The branch of the palm tree forms a curved line towards the ground an indication of instability. In the Apocryphal Gospel, the infant Jesus commanded the palm tree to bend so that his mother Mary could pick its fruit. Implied horizontal line in this artwork reveals direction and movement. The elements are on a solid ground moving from right to left. Horizontal lines in the artwork reveals that the landscape is extending to the left and right. Implied horizontal lines in this artwork also indicate fear on the male figure who is Joseph. The zigzag lines on his face could either indicate fear or masculinity. Given that they are escaping, he may be looking out if they are being followed. Furthermore, a psychological line is implied between the male figure and the other figures. The male figure is looking back in to ensure that the others are fine. In the Holofernes Army Crossing the Euphrates River, the use of implied horizontal lines indicate motion as the army is crossing the Euphrates River. Implied diagonal line in the piece of art is an indication that the army is almost coming to solid ground after crossing the river. The banners are horizontal indicating a windy weather. Zigzag lines can also be visualized in the blue background on the feet of the army that represents flowing river water. Water flow is always wavy which and heightened on a windy weather and zigzag lines indicate instability. The bright thick black lines in the two artworks separate the many pieces of colored glass creating an outline that emphasizes important shapes in the pieces of art. Lines create different shapes which are important aspects of an artwork that helps narrate a story.
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Lastly the creators of these pieces of work used dissimilar elements having different shapes that greatly contributed in developing a narrative. Organization of shapes in a piece of art creates positive and negative space. Every picture has a negative space depending on the important objects that the viewer emphasizes on. Both the negative and positive space helps to promote calculated emotions in the viewer (Fichner-Rathus 56-58). The two pieces of arts are composed of shapes of different sizes, texture, and material. Shapes are either geometric or organic. A piece of art telling a story widely uses organic objects which represent people, animals or plants. In these two pieces of art, the glasses are geometric taking polygonal shapes while the objects illustrated in these pieces of arts are organic objects. The thick lead strips help the viewer focus on positive objects and at the same time identifies the negative space. These two pieces of art maximized on the use of space. In The Flight to Egypt piece of work the positive space is created by the four figures representing the Holy Family and the objects representing the donkey and the palm tree. The negative background is created by the high contrast dark red color. In the Holoferenes Army Crossing the Euphrates River piece of art, the blue background is the negative space and represents the river waters and the sky while the positive space is composed of the army on their horses.
In conclusion, these two pieces of art are similar in many ways ranging from composition to the shapes of the elements. A major noticeable difference is that creator of The Flight to Egypt piece of art used bigger and brighter objects compared to the objects in the Holofernes Army Crossing Euphrates River piece of art. Both the pieces of art illustrate Apocryphal book stories using asymmetrical composition. The creators arranged the bright objects in a manner that utilized the space creating an asymmetrical stability. A combination of the bright objects, actual and implied lines, together with the negative space creates a narrative.
- Charles, Victoria, and Klaus Carl. Gothic Art: Art of Century. Confidential Concepts, 2014.
- Fichner-Rathus, Lois. Foundations of Art and Design. Wadsworth, 2015.
- Pentak, Stephen, and David A. Lauer. Design Basics. Cengage Learning, 2016.