Dido and Aeneas

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Dido and Aeneas Sample Essay

The classical works of art, whether these are paintings, sculptures or anything else, represent the high value nowadays. It is not only about the fact that they depict the scenes of that-time life or have an artistic merit. It is a message that an artist wanted to express through each particular painting of what mattered even more, as well as the methods used for this purpose. Down below, the painting Dido and Aeneas by Rutilio Manetti will be analyzed. Both visual an analysis and research will be presented. In particular, the composition, color, scale, and a figure style of the painting will be examined. The historical background will be discussed highlighting such aspects as the conditions of its creation and the value of this work of art in its time. Scholar works on this topic will be examined, and conclusions will be made.

The painting Dido and Aeneas by Rutilio Manetti was created in Italy approximately in the year 1630. He created his works during the artistic period known as Mannerism, which started to develop in Italy at around 1520. At that time, the High Renaissance was coming to its end. It had lasted till the early 17th century, when the Baroque started (“Mannerism,” n. d.). This period differed from the previous Renaissance with its tendency to intellectual sophistication and compositional tension as well as instability. Another significant feature of it was artificiality (“Mannerism,” n. d.). Having a closer look at Dido and Aeneas, one may notice that these essential elements can be found on the canvas as well. That is why the purpose of this study is to show how the exact characteristics of Mannerism have currently appeared in this work of art by performing its analysis.

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Formal Analysis

As for the general characteristics of the painting, the first thing that attracts the viewer’s attention is its composition. These are the figures of Dido and Aeneas being the focal point of it. It catches one’s eye when first looking at the picture.

The composition is arranged so that these figures are placed on the foreground taking the whole size of the canvas from one side of it to another. Three other figures are hidden behind their backs. Dido and Aeneas are highlighted not only because they are depicted very close to each other. Aeneas seems to give embrace to Dido. Also, the choice of colors artist had used for depicting them is special. Aeneas and Dido are wearing clothes that stand out with their colors. Dido has a mustard-yellow gown on her, being wrapped in a bright cloak of red. Her pale skin and a chemise of bright white only highlight the total brightness of the colors of her garments. Aeneas, though his clothes are darker, still has some elements that make the viewer hold an eye on him. As an example, bright white and red feathers, golden decoration on his helmet, as well as a white shirt, a green cloak, and a mustard-yellow paludamentum (a kind of the leather skirt). Using colors for dramatizing the general effect of the picture was a popular method used by Mannerists. Thus, Manetti had used it as well. One more notable feature that unites these two figures is that some elements of their clothes have the similar colors (Dido’s gown and Aeneas’s paludamentum, the red feather on Aeneas’s helmet and red cloak of Dido).

It is also a background that makes the figures of Dido and Aeneas notable. The faces of the figures in the background are partly shaded and depicted in muted colors. The column on the right can be barely seen, being immersed into the shade. The background itself creates a sense of flat space in the picture. It is dark, which flattens the background behind the figures on the painting, making them somewhat obscure. The persons on the background also contribute to creating this flat-space illusion.

They are placed very close to the figures of Dido and Aeneas making the whole group crowded. This method for making the space of the picture neutral, focusing one’s eyes on the central figures, yet deprives the general scene of space and determination.  

The scale of the painting also matters. Though the canvas is not life-sized the sense of the main characters on it seems to step out of the frame. Moreover, their liveliness is increased by the way Manetti has depicted them.

Nevertheless, despite the importance of colors and composition of the painting, its medium plays a significant role in the impression it has done on the audience. Dido and Aeneas is painted with oil on canvas painting. The rich texture of oil paint, its vivid and glossy palette has allowed showing the figures on canvas as realistically as possible. The precise depiction of small elements like folds of the clothes, body curves, or texture of fabric are precisely reproduced. The strokes of paintbrush cannot even be recognized when looking at the picture and creating the sense of precise realism. Dido and Aeneas are depicted in tense postures full of movement, with their faces emotional and expressive.

Historical Framework

Dido and Aeneas painting created by Rutilio Manetti at the early 1630s belongs to the artistic school known as Mannerism. This current  painting style comes from Italy. It was originally created as a response to the Classicism with its harmony and balance, as well as idealized naturalism of High Renaissance (“Mannerism,” n. d.). Mannerism appeared at the period of time when it seemed that art had already reached its highest level of perfection, and nothing new could be created anymore. That is why the young artists of the new generation like Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo Visdomini drew away from the classical norms and traditions and created a new style (“Mannerism,” n. d.).

They were searching for some new and unusual ways of expression and innovations. Fiorentino, for example, liked to put the illogical and unexpected subjects in a central focus of the picture. Among the other famous Mannerist painters there was Angelo Bronzino who was excellent in portraits. He was using an elegant and refined poise. However, he often used an ironic way of depicting people by contrasting rich and detailed costumes to the still and aloof faces (Maniates).

The period when Mannerism was developing was the time of complete and fundamental changes in Europe. It was the time of prominent discoveries and total re-examination of what had been thought to be an unshakeable basis of that-time society and worldview. Classical dogmas were forced to undergo turmoil and had to be cardinally reconsidered. These changes had an essential impact on painting as well (“The mannerist style and the lamentation,” n. d.).

Being the result of the epoch of chaos and unevenness, Mannerism expresses some doubts over the classical principles, normative proportions, and transparent space common for the High Renaissance. Classical principles of proportion and perspective, the traditional ways of depicting body, the definition of space, as every aspect had been reviewed and modernized (“The mannerist style and the lamentation,” n. d.).

The works of Mannerists differed with artificiality and artiness, as well as their bizarre way of depiction. The bodies in their paintings are graceful, often with strangely elongated limbs and small heads, being depicted in complicated positions. The space on these pictures is often flat, with the background of indeterminate dimension (“Mannerism,” n. d.). However, some of these specific features, being strongly marked at the early Mannerism, became less significant in the late period.

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As for Dido and Aeneas, Manetti used typical Mannerist methods in his work. Mannerists expressed the movement in their works through the position of body. In Manetti’s painting, the figure of Aeneas is depicted this way. He is portrayed when moving, both leaning towards Dido and stepping back. His face is turned towards her. However, the way his body is turned, as if averted from Dido, shows his intention to leave. Dido’s leaning figure, with her head bent to a shoulder and with a farewell gesture, is also making a step. The curve of her body is such that her right leg is slightly protruding forward. It makes the lower part of the body turned to the viewer. The upper part is turned to Aeneas’ figure, creating an impression of movement.

Back then, it is possible to suppose that such work of art, opposing the common rules and principles of the artistic depiction, could have been accepted with surprise, or even bewilderment or disapproval. However, counting on the fact that Rutilio Manetti belonged to the late period of Mannerism, his Dido and Aeneas was not something out of order. On the contrary, the artist was known rather as a talented but mediocre painter who used the innovations of his more gifted and prominent contemporaries (“Manetti’s Dido and Aeneas explained,” n. d.). His works were good but ordinary paintings, one of the many ones, rather than something unique and outstanding. Besides, under the influence of the Catholic Counter-Reformation the Mannerist style began to lose its popularity giving its way to pious religious painting (Mannerist painting in Italy). This current trend also started to decline from 1590 onward, when naturalism was slowly renovated (“Mannerism style of art,” n. d.).

Summing up, such conclusion can be made that the painting Dido and Aeneas, though being the typical Mannerist work, was not widely popular. The reasons are historical factors (Counter-Reformation) and the absence of the peculiar personal style of Manetti. However, its technique and style are high. This statement can be supported by some significant features of Mannerism showed in a visual analysis. For example, using color for highlighting the emotional aspect and dramatizing it (the common colors of clothes uniting couple while in the picture they are shown leaving each other). The depiction of the movement by twisting and turning the bodies on canvas shows them in an action (Dido and Aeneas making the steps to and away from each other accordingly). There are some changes in depicting space (the flattened and neutral background of the painting). However, despite the fact that the painting Dido and Aeneas corresponds to the typical Mannerist characteristics, this work cannot be regarded as a masterpiece. It is being rather a good average painting of that time.