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      Six Odd Details Hidden in Masterpieces
      發布時間:2021年04月01日     陸璐 譯  
      來源: 英語世界
      字號 簡體 繁體 打印

      Six Odd Details Hidden in Masterpieces


      Great works of art contain touches of strangeness that, once seen, unlock deeper meaning.


      By Kelly Grovier


      What do the greatest paintings and sculptures in cultural history – from Girl with a Pearl Earring to Picasso’s Guernica1, from the Terracotta Army to Edvard Munch’s The Scream – have in common? Each is hardwired with an underappreciated, indeed often overlooked, detail that ignites its meaning from deep inside.


      Taking as my starting point the most revered images in all of human history (from Trajan’s Column2 to American Gothic3, the Elgin Marbles4 to Matisse’s The Dance5), I went looking for what makes great art great – why some works continue to vibrate in popular imagination century after century, while the vast majority of artistic creations slip our consciousness almost as quickly as we encounter them. Combing the surface of these works, I was surprised to discover that each contains a flourish of strangeness which, once spotted, unlocks exciting new readings and changes forever the way we engage with these masterpieces.


      Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (1482-5)6



      A wind-spun spiral of golden hair suspended on the goddess’s right shoulder in Sandro Botticelli’s Renaissance masterpiece The Birth of Venus whirs like a miniature motor on the vertical axis of the painting, propelling it forward into our imagination. A perfect logarithmic curl, this is no incidental ornament or accident of brushwork. The same spinning vector, observable in the plunge of raptor birds and the twist of nautilus shells, has hypnotised thinkers since antiquity. In the 17th century, a Swiss mathematician, Jacob Bernoulli, would eventually christen the curl spira mirabilis, or “marvellous spiral”. In Botticelli’s painting – a work that celebrates timeless elegance – the inscrutable spiral whispers into Venus’s right ear, divulging to her the very secrets of truth and beauty.

      在桑德羅·波提切利文藝復興時期的代表作《維納斯的誕生》中,一縷金發呈螺旋狀搭在維納斯右肩,被風呼呼吹動,好似畫面縱軸的一臺微型發動機,將畫推入我們的想象。這條完美的對數曲線狀卷發絕非次要的點綴或意外的筆觸,它與猛禽的俯沖路徑和鸚鵡螺殼上的螺旋相吻合,自古以來就讓眾多思想家著迷。17世紀,瑞士數學家雅各布·貝爾努利最終將其命名為spira mirabilis,即奇跡螺線。在波提切利這幅贊頌永恒優雅的畫作中,這條神秘的螺線對著維納斯的右耳低語,向她訴說著真與美的奧秘。

      Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1505-10)7



      That an egg lies hidden in plain sight at the dead centre8 of Hieronymus Bosch’s carnival of fleshly shenanigans (balanced atop a horseman’s head) is well enough known by critics and casual admirers of the painting alike. But how does that delicate detail unlock the work’s truest meaning? If we swing shut the triptych’s side panels to reveal the work’s outer shell and the ghostly ovoid of a fragile world that Bosch has depicted on the work’s exterior – a translucent orb floating in the ether – we discover that he conceived his painting as a kind of egg endlessly to be cracked and uncracked every time we engage with the complex work. By opening and closing Bosch’s painting, we alternately set a fledgling world in motion or turn the hand of time back to before the beginning, before our innocence was lost.


      Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665)



      Think you see a pearl dangling lustrously in Vermeer’s famous portrait of a girl endlessly turning towards or away from us? Think again. The swollen bauble around which the painting’s mystery spins is just a pigment of your imagination. With a flick of the wrist and two deft dabs of white paint, the artist has tricked the primary visual cortices of our brains’ occipital lobes into magicking9 a pearl from the thinnest of air. Squint as tight as you wish and there is no loop that links the ornament to her ear. Its very sphericity is a hoax. We’ve willed the earring into weightless suspension from the puniest of white apostrophes. Vermeer’s precious gem is an opulent optical illusion, one that reflects back on our own illusory presence in the world.


      Georges Seurat, Bathers at Asnières (1884)



      The large painting of Parisians whiling away a lazy lunch hour on the banks of the river Seine, the first work ever exhibited by Seurat, was initially finished in 1884. It was then touched up by the artist years later, after he had begun to perfect his signature technique10 of applying small distinct dots that cohere in the eye of the observer when seen at a distance. The colour theory that underpins Seurat’s more mature pointillist style owes its origin in part to the ideas of a French chemist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, who explained how the juxtaposition of hues can generate a persistence of tone in our imagination. In the hazy distance of Seurat’s painting, a row of smokestacks rise from a factory that produced candles according to an industrial innovation for which Chevreul was also responsible. These chimneys, which seem more like paintbrushes daubing the work into existence, are a tribute to the thinker without whom Seurat’s resplendent vision would not have been possible.


      Edvard Munch, The Scream (1893)



      It has long been assumed that the howling figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream – an archetype of angst that still flickers above the popular imagination more than a century after it was created – was indebted chiefly to the aghast expression frozen on the face of a Peruvian mummy that the artist encountered at the 1889 Universal Exposition11 in Paris. But Munch was an artist concerned more about the future than the past, and especially anxious about the pace of technology. Surely he would have been even more deeply impressed by the breath-taking spectacle of an enormous lightbulb filled with 20,000 smaller bulbs that stood on a pedestal and towered over the pavilion in the same Exposition. A tribute to the ideas of Thomas Edison, the sculpture rose like a crystalline god heralding a new idolatry, flipping a switch12 in Munch’s mind. The contours of The Scream’s yowling face reflect with extraordinary precision the drooping jaw and bulbous cranium of Edison’s terrifying electric totem13.


      Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1907)14



      Surely love and passion stand at the furthest extreme from the long white lab coats and microscopic slides of scientific testing. Not according to Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss. The year he painted his work, Vienna was alive with the language of platelets and blood cells, especially around the University of Vienna where Klimt himself had, years earlier, been invited to create paintings based on medical themes. Look closer at the curious patterns that throb on the woman’s frock in Klimt’s painting and one suddenly sees them for what they are: Petri dishes pulsing with cells as if the artist has offered us a scan of her soul. The Kiss is Klimt’s luminous biopsy of eternal love.





      1. 《格爾尼卡》是以納粹轟炸西班牙北部巴斯克的重鎮格爾尼卡、殺害無辜的事件為背景創作的一幅畫,采用了寫實的象征性手法和單純的黑、白、灰三色營造出低沉悲涼的氛圍,渲染了悲劇性色彩,表現了法西斯戰爭給人類帶來的災難。


      2. 圖拉真紀功柱,或譯作圖拉真柱、圖拉真凱旋柱,位于意大利圖拉真廣場,是羅馬帝國皇帝圖拉真為紀念征服達西亞所立。


      3. 《美國哥特式》是美國畫家格蘭特·伍德創作的板上油畫,是芝加哥藝術博物館的一件鎮館之寶。


      4. 埃爾金大理石雕是古希臘帕特農神廟的部分雕刻和建筑殘件,是大英博物館最著名的藏品之一。


      5. 《舞蹈》是“野獸派”畫家亨利·馬蒂斯創作的布面油畫。


      6. 《維納斯的誕生》是意大利畫家桑德羅·波提切利創作的畫布蛋彩畫;英文“1482-5”應為畫作完成的年份,但具體完成時間存在爭議(如英文維基百科上標注的是“1484-1486”)。


      7. 《人間樂園》是早期尼德蘭派畫家耶羅尼米斯·博斯創作的三聯畫作品,由三塊屏風狀的油畫組成,屏風合起時可以看到背面混沌球體的圖案,象征上帝創世。


      8. dead centre 正中心。


      9. magick是magic的古代拼法,意為“用魔法變出(或使消失、使變成……等)”。


      10. 修拉的代表技法是對光和色進行分解,使用不同色彩的圓點繪畫,觀者站在一定距離看去時,畫面的兩種色彩會恰好混合成一種新的顏色。


      11. 世界博覽會,又稱國際博覽會或萬國博覽會,簡稱世博會、世博、萬博,是一個具國際規模的集會。


      12. to flip a switch 引發轉變。


      13. 這里的terrifying electric totem聯系前文的new idolatry 更好理解,作者認為蒙克從1889年世博會上的燈泡展品里看到了技術崇拜的影子,因此創作出《吶喊》以警示人們過度的技術崇拜會使人異化、給人帶來痛苦。


      14. 《吻》是奧地利象征主義畫家古斯塔夫·克里姆特創作的裝飾性壁畫,畫面中大量使用了金箔、銀箔等材料做裝飾。