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    Jun 2010
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    Post The High Renaissance and Skin Tones (half essay, half question, a wee bit long)

    I thought I'd make a thread and share my thoughts on the skin tones of the masters of the high renaissance and maybe get some feedback as to the ideas of other painters out there, this thread's gonna be abit image heavy, just a word of warning I guess hahah.

    I think that one of the biggest advancements made in the baroque era that had not really been touched on by preceeding artists is an increasing complexity in skin tones. Only a few artists, most notably in my mind Moroni had really began systematically observing the possible modulations in skin tone and treating it as something individual. Other than that, high renaissance artists tended to generalise their skin tones depending on the genre of their painting and also the physical characterists of their models. A good example is this painting by correggio

    Notice how the skin tones of the women and children are fair whereas the complexion of the male is significantly darker, actually identical to that of the lion that stands beside him. No attempt is being made here of literal discription as its quite impossible that the man's skin would be idenitcal in colour to the lion's fur. The overriding concern here is harmony. This is a fairly typical high renaissance convention that carried over into the proceeding mannerism, as seen in this excellent example by Bronzino.

    The contrast here between male and female/child flesh is striking, but if we look at the female flesh (especially in this reproduction we see that it is essentially in two colours, a base colour that can be seen in the shadows and contours and a lighter colour dirived from the dark colour mixed heavily with white. A light pink is then applied to the cheeks and extermities, and also lightly to joins such as the knees. This can be seen in numorous masterpieces of the period (although the pink only became commonplace from around the time of raphael on and is generally missing from the works of leonardo, perugino, etc.

    My reasoning for this is that painting (especially of and before leonardo's time) was essentially taking its lead from ancient greek and roman sculpture, and the sculptures of newer artists revitalising the ancient forms (donatello and verucchio being most prominent until the rise of michelangelo). The key concern therefore was upon draftmanship, and although form was studied assiduously from nature, as well as from classical casts the colouration of these figures was essentially an afterthought and viewed as such until the venetian school came to dominant italian painting.

    I realise that speaking from a position which favours observation over convention there's no real need to worry about any of this, but the aesthetics of the high renaissance continually inspire me and I was wondering if anyone could suggest which modern day pigments would correspond to the dark colours of each of these skin tones. I plan to take to my studio tonight and have a good long think and experiment to figure these out anyways but other peoples solutions would be greatly appreciated!

    In particular, I'm fascinated by the works of leonardo(and the most excellent among his pupils) and correggio.
    First up, correggio. Beautiful, this one. Notice that the hair and the skin are essentially the some colour, as evidenced by the heavy shadow of the arm and the darker tones of the hair. A really good example of blonde flesh.
    Another correggio, hahah. This shows the uniformity of his approach. Again notice how the hair and skin are essentially identical in colour, as seen in the darkest shadows of the skin as compared to the hair. I'm a huge correggio fan and this is one of my favourites. The harmony between brown and golden yellow, offset by that one patch of blue really is sublime.

    EDIT: Just thought I'd add this one by leonardo,, a good example of the sculptural quality of some of his earlier work. The fact that (to my humble eye anyways) the whole skin originates in one colour is made most obvious in the shading of the madonna's hand on the christ child's back, although looking at the strong highlights on the forehead you'd be forgiven for thinking they're two seperate colours. The reason I mention this is so that I can know better how to replicate the technique. Think I'm go rumaging in my bookcase and see if I can find any info on browns and whites used during the renaissance in italy, although I know that the effects of time are gonna make a big impact on the difference between a modern aproximation of these pigments and the way we now see these pigments on canvases/panels that are hundreds of years old and the victims of some pretty crude early restoration attempts.

    I'd add some more leonardo examples but I really need to leave the computer here, real world duties calling me hahah, but I'll add some later. If anyone else wants to throw in their two cents here please do.
    Last edited by Salai; October 4th, 2010 at 05:01 PM.

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