Technique Tuesday: Pentimenti

Technique Tuesday pentimenti

What is it?

A pentimento (the plural is “pentimenti”) is an alteration in an artwork that becomes apparent by the marks and traces left behind from the artist’s original strokes. Although it is derived from the (you guessed it!) Italian word meaning “to repent,” it’s not quite accurate to call these marks mistakes. For a long time, artists took care to cover the changes they made to a painting and the pentimenti were only visible via infrared scans and X-rays. Take for example this image showing an X-ray of Netherlandish Renaissance painter Jan van Eyck’s famous “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait.”

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Jan van Eyck, “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait” with detail of X-ray

It becomes apparent that the artist originally depicted the hand in one position, later to change his mind and adjust the angle of the hand. From the surface of the finished painting, this isn’t a change we can observe. You might be surprised to learn how many times an X-ray or scan of a well known work has revealed a pentimento showing the artist changed his or her mind about the composition!

Examples from art history:

Until the more free and expressive artistic movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, artists kept this type of pentimento well concealed except for in preliminary sketches. You can see pentimenti evident in each of these drawings by famous artists:

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(left) Leonardo da Vinci sketch of a horse; (middle) Edgar Degas sketches of dancers; (right) Vincent van Gogh sketched self portrait

Paul Cezanne was among the first to actually embrace pentimenti as something more than just evidence of a work in progress; he began to deliberately include a lot of pentimenti in his drawings to enhance the expressive nature of a work, as well as the three dimensional appearance.

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Paul Cezanne, “The Artist’s Son Writing”

 

Examples from Principle Gallery:

As art has progressed and the realm of what is considered “proper” and “good” art has immeasurably broadened, pentimenti have evolved into an element that is often deliberately left in a finished work to add richness to it. One Principle Gallery artist who has mastered the use of pentimenti to add a sense of motion, expression, and visual interest to his work is the great Robert Liberace.

A locally based painter and painting teacher, Robert Liberace has been dubbed a “Living Master” for his incredible artworks, particularly his figurative paintings and portraits. Robert excels in portraying a figure in action, and his clever use of pentimenti heightens this effect. In the more active scenes, the lines of the pentimenti are particularly bold.

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Robert Liberace, “Throwing Figure” (left); “Study in Motion” (right)

Robert also varies his use of this technique, as sometimes it becomes very subtle so as to unobtrusively add to the sense of motion, as in the image on the left. Other times, he leaves the pentimenti highly visible but “unfinished” in the background to give a sense of time elapsing during a motion, as in the example on the right.

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Robert Liberace, “5th Circle” (left); “Telemon” (right)

We are thrilled to exhibit a large group of new works by Robert Liberace alongside his former student Teresa Oaxaca this month. In addition, following Teresa’s live painting demonstration on May 15th, we are so looking forward to another live demo as Robert Liberace paints a model live in the gallery on May 29th! Join us for the demonstration between 6 and 9 PM this coming Friday, and be sure to check out all of the new works in this exhibition on our website here!

 

 

 

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