The Grotesque Head

«The Grotesque Head» shows a woman who, while not difficult to recognize as a human being, is difficult to like. Her unattractiveness is displayed with a surgeon’s precision, and it is difficult to understand what drove her to this condition: a difficulty in life, or an inner ugliness that presses itself, over time, upon the human body. Nonetheless, Leonardo feels no need, like many of his contemporaries, to ignore this. He took the first steps into the paths the Surrealists would tread – the human body and its dismbemberment by modern culture. (Harts. F. , Wilkins, D.3) When the Surrealists took place on the arena, the study of the human body had long been driven to perfection.

The canon had been so perfected that it had not evolved for dozens of years, and the newer, more Impressionist styles, had explored atmosphere rather than the human body itself. And yet the body remained virtually unknown: what exiisted of it was an idealized version, something that did not exist in reality. The Surrealists, however, turned to the reality about themselves, and showed a body that was barely recognized, hidden behind the many facades of falsity.They showed and transformed the body, stripped from it all that would interfere with their demonstration – they tried to get at its hidden truth. A classical example of this would be Salvador Dali’s «The City of the Drawers».

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The human body depicted here is almost a classical model: Dali proves himself to be an excellent and masterful sketcher. The musculature is completely drawn, the shadows are extremely well-done – in Leonardesque shading style – and yet, the human body depicted here is hardly human.There is no face shown – a characteristic feature of Surrealist body depiction: they are not interested in the personality, as the Renaissance masters, but in that which lies below the personality. As many other Surrealist masters, Dali depicts the body as part-thing, installing in his picture drawers – showing it as an object, where we place all sorts of things, never caring for the body’s well-being. If the Renaissance paintings show a deep regard and respect, despite their common unorthodoxality, Dali shows us how the modern state treats the body – and it is not a pretty sight.To summarize, the similarity in vision here is interesting: both the Renaissance masters and the Surrealists painted what they saw, rather than what they calculated – in both technique and concept – and yet how different is this vision! The Renaissance masters would see the human being as whole, as a unity of soul and body, and even the dead were studied as remnants of some living being. The Surrealists would give a perspective of the body as dismembered and fragmented, as a frightening monument to our own ignorance of ourselves.

It is curious that the Surrealists themselves regarded the Renaissance masters as their predecessorts: similar in the breakthrough, but hardly in the spirit of the depicted. To the Surrealist mind, the Renaissance was the first to turn attention to the human body… And its connection to the human mind. The human mind Both the Renaissance and the early Twentieth century were times of serious scientifical breakthrough.

As Richmond notes, the two great scientifical revolutions were both marked by a renewal of the cosmological question – «Where do we stand in the universe?How do we relate to it? »This was the question asked in times of great social crisis: it is well-known what Renaissance turmoil was like, and the early 20th century World War climate was even harsher. And it was science that answered, science and its patrons. In the Renaissance, the greatest tribute to science was, of course, the very method itself. It is well-known that the Renaissance is a rediscovery of the science of painting, and its use, reigning triumphantly over the old, symbolc uses and methods of painting, is the best tribute there could be.One needs only to look at the decorative frescoes in the Venetian palaces in San Marco, and wonder where the walls end and the ceiling begins, and then to go to Florence and see Masaccio’s famous 3-d frescoes to see how far the painters had come in such a short time. And yet there existed a second form of tribute to the human mind, which is much easier to compare with the Surrealists for a number of reasons.

We speak of the portrait. The portrait was the reward for all men of note.Those who had an influence on the Renaissance mind, whether one of awe or one of fear, would have their portrait painted, to be remembered as long as the portrait existed, and longer.

The Renaissance portrait here showed the individual at their best, a discovery of the so-called «official portrait». This was the first era where the glory of a ruler could be depicted with the same pomp and beauty as that of a member of the church. And what would be depicted would not only be their status and riches – but also their mind. Let us examine the portrait of Lorenzo Medici by Rafael Sanzio, one of the most famous Renaissance portraits.It is painted in bright soft colors, which help to strengthen the demonstration of this extraordinary patron at the height of his power and beauty. His features are softened by Rafael’s bright colors, his clothes’ richness is not offensive, but rather proud.

He is a patron of the arts, an educated man and a good ruler – were we judge only from Rafael’s painting. He is the sole hero of the portrait, and is seemingly in harmony with himself and his purpose, gracefully bearing the weight of his responsibility, and is «shining from within», like all true works of Raphael (Oberhuber, 8)– not at all like the people that the Surrealists show.