Last week the artist’s studio was presented as an introspective space; an area where the painter contemplated himself either through the self-portrait in the studio, or the studio itself, which could be seen as a metaphor for the artist’s mind. This probably gave the impression of a solitary space, a place into which no other soul intruded. However, the artist’s studio was not only a space for reflection, but a realm where information was conveyed betweenn painter and others through the process of teaching. This could take many forms: the rational, disciplined space of the academy (Carracci, above); the artist’s own private studio in which he taught paying pupils (Rembrandt, right ); an indeterminate space where pupils learnt through the division of labour (Raphael’s bottega); family concern where relatives, as well as external members, cooperated in the enterprise of the workshop (Tintoretto).
Learning could take many different forms. A pupil could be given the task of copying the artist’s work, trying to reproduce their style, and the master would subsequently evaluate it, correcting it where necessary, as in this fascinating example from Rembrandt’s private school in Amsterdam. Notice how the master has imposed his terribilita on the pupil’s (Constantin van Renesse) tentative Annunciation; Rembrandt’s angel has a grandeur that the puny original couldn’t hope to match. And note that in the drawing in the previous section, Rembrandt is shown amongst his pupils- this is a hands-on situation. However, there could be a much more systematic, hierarchically organised programme of study; the pupil would be allocated certain tasks depending on their place in the pecking order.
It is instructive to examine an image of a workshop by the Flemish engraver Cornelius Cort, after Jan van der Straet, and so perhaps a reflection of his own studio. Equally, as the title of Cort’s print suggests, it is meant to show the mechanics of painting, its operations broken down into parts within the studio. The objects that we see symbolise learning in the studio. The statues of Venus stand for female beauty; the books refer to humanist knowledge; the skulls and animal skeletons the importance of anatomy. In this image we get a striking sense of how important learnedness was in the artist’s studio. The young apprentices in van der Straet’s studio not only draw the limbs of the body, the effects of light and shadow on classical sculpture but also pore over texts, some of which are likely to be anatomical manuals. The elderly man who dissects the arm of the skeleton may be the master but he is more likely to be an older artist delegated to supervise the work of the pupils. It is likely that the master is the artist working on a large history painting at the back of the studio, which is labelled “Pictura”. What this print hints at is a division of labour within the Flemish studio; it also promotes the idea of an advertisement for the painter’s studio, a site of artistic skill and humanist virtue, qualities that the master hopes his pupils will learn from his teaching. (See Giles Waterfield’s discussion in The Artist’s Studio, 18.). In another image of the workshop, this time from 17th century Rome, perhaps illustrating the working practices of the Academy of St Luke (above), we see even sharper sub-divisions of painting. Amongst the studio activities we see a dissection of a cadaver, study of a statuette, lessons in geometry, the mapping out of a cartoon observed by a teacher, the sketching of a lower limb, and the inspection of a set of eyes drawn by a pupil. The latter would part of the curriculum in the Bolognese academy of Annibale Carracci, his relatives and external pupils. Here’s a sample of a set of drawn eyes showing you the progression from sketchy lines to a fully realized organ.
As Carl Goldstein states in his survey of the academy in western art (Carl Goldstein, Teaching Art, (30-6), the organisation should be distinguished from other entities like workshops, clubs and schools, although there was inevitably a certain amount of overlap. Clubs existed in the early modern to bind artists, intellectuals and men of virtue together; the workshop would be an additional presence but not the same as a workshop in itself. There were differences too: a workshop would not encourage the study of literature and poetry, or music. For example, this painting by Eustache Le Sueur of members of the French Academy, set up in 1642, shows a fairly relaxed gathering of fellows, some of whom paint, play music and even stroke dogs! This low key attitude would eventually be swept away by the reforms of Louis XIV. Painters would be made to think for the King, paint for the King! Nicolas Loir’s grand Allegory on the Founding of the Academy of Painting and Sculptor of 1666 leaves you in no doubt who is calling the shots here. Female personifications of Painting and Sculpture are unravelled by Old Father Time, while a portrait of Le roi, accompanied by Fame and Wisdom, presides over all. The artist’s studio has turned into something that is the equivalent of the French Civil Service!
The central tenet of the workshop would be learning from the masters, and this would entail lots of copying, both paintings, drawings and classical sculpture. The latter was especially important because of its figurative nature; the representation of the body was a key humanist idea that pupils were expected to adhere to. The emphasis on copying the works of the past would bring the working space closer to the idea of a school. Michelangelo’s famous ‘Battle of Cascina’ cartoon, destroyed through the enthusiasm of other artists, was called a “school” of art, according to his biographer Giorgio Vasari. Vasari seems to have been making a direct connection between the practice of copying and the notion of a “school.” In an important representation of the renaissance artist Bandinelli’s workshop, drawing is obviously highly important, but another theme is suggested allusively by the sad, “melancholic” pose of a pupil who immediately conjures up the introspection and self-reflexivity we saw in the artist’s studio last week. This note of sadness chimes in with the light shown in the image, which conveys the idea of inner illumination. Goldstein links this use of light to the concept of disegno, which on the one hand can signify drawing, but also a kind of inner, hidden design located in the artist’s mind. What Bandinelli was seeking to bring to his art was intellectual respectability- a body of theory to underscore the manual craft of drawing. This is taking the studio further away from a space in which manual functions are carried out and nearer to a philosophical view of art, which is essential to the intellectual theory behind the academy.
The idea of the academy brings us back to teaching, because the name refers to the grove of trees where Plato taught his pupils philosophy. Yet an academy in Plato’s sense would be about talking and discussion, usually about morals and ethics- not about art. Plato and art do come into contact in the renaissance in Raphael’s seminal fresco, the School of Athens where the young master shows himself in the company of Plato, Aristotle and other wise men. This image would serve other artists who wanted to make connections between philosophy and painting, most conspicuously in the art and writings of the seventeenth-century painter Pietro Testa, who in his Liceo or Lyceum- another philosophical teaching space- incorporates Plato and Aristotle as well as allegorical figures referring to the three arts: painting, sculpture and architecture. I’m not even going to attempt to unravel Testa’s abstruse allegory, and anyway the use of philosophers in 17th century representations of the academy is a complex issue which deserves detailed consideration. Essentially it seems to boil down to the idea of discourse in the workshop and studio: it wasn’t “academic” enough to just practice the art of painting; it had to be discussed, analysed and presented as a set of theoretical precepts set within in a teaching programme.
As should be obvious by now, the academy was exclusively a male space, though the female form was drawn, mainly from classical statues. Until the late 19th century, women were excluded from academic life, although there were plenty of situations where they did paint, earn honours and distinction. Yet, it must be stressed that success stories like Sophonisba Auguisolla, Angelica Kaufmann and Artemisia Gentileschi were rare. Generally, women were barred from practicing the highest form of painting, so they fell back on the so-called lesser genres. They were definitely not history painters, but had to settle for painting still-life, portraits and types of art at the lower end of the academic hierarchy. However, with women gaining more economic independence, and with a thaw in the academy’s attitudes towards them, opportunities became more available. Private academies appeared such as Heatherley’s School in Newman St, London, and most significantly of all the Slade School of Art, which from its opening in 1871 admitted women to its classes. Women were also granted the right to draw and paint from male and female models. Reproduced in Waterfield is Elizabeth Brown’s Female Figure Lying on a Bed, which won first prize (equal) in the Slade Figure Painting Prize in 1931. More well-known than Brown is Gwen John who turned out to be one of the Slade’s greatest pupils. John was a pupil at the Slade between 1895-98. At the end of that stint John went to Paris and studied under Whistler at the Académie Carmen. A painting of John’s room in the rue du Cherche Midi, Paris, nicely encapsulates the privacy and intimacy of her painting space. The room’s pared down minimalism suggests a retreat to the interior away from the crowded and competitive Slade School of Art. As Greer has said of Gwen John, she “painted her paintings less and less, leaving the ground showing through, never touching the canvas twice, in the same place, risking failure with every move. While her brother (Augustus John) spread himself very thinly, she withdrew into a single drop, forever compressing and concentrating her art and her feelings to an inner end, the intense, energetic, but utterly circumscribed life of a mystic.” See Greer, The Obstacle Race, 110).Something of that retreating nature is present in this painting which does suggest the hermeticism of a saint crossed with the atmosphere of a bohemian studio.
Of course women had entered the studio as wives, lovers and models, and in some cases both. Gwen John had been model and lover to the sculptor Rodin, for example. Models are obviously vital to the practice of the artist, and the nude model comes to symbolise a variety of different artist’s studios encountered in the history of art. William Orpen’s ironically titled The English Nude of 1900 –Orpen was born in Dublin- is wonderfully realistic.This portrait of his mistress references a number of famous nudes: Emily Scobel’s unflinching gaze owes something to Manet’s success de scandale Olympia of 1865; and the pose of Orphen’s nude is taken from Rembrandt’s Bathsheba, modelled by his own mistress Hendricje Stoffels. In this clever and knowing representation of the artist’s model, Orpen locates the type in the history of the studio whilst conveying the overlap of academy, gender and family within the artist’s habitat.