Expressing emotions

1.0 Art and Sculpture

Fine art and sculpture certainly inspires emotions, but it also often chooses to depict emotions:

Happiness – producing images that promote positive emotions is probably motivated as a form of early community building. This first statuette is from 7th c Meso-America and the other is from 12th c Cambodia.

Portraits are most often formal likenesses, but Frans Hals decided his brightly-dressed sitter should smile. Robert Delaunay used simple colours and shapes to suggest movement and harmony.


Smiling figure – 7th c Meso-America

Smiling face – 12th c Cambodia

Laughing Cavalier – 1625

Rhythm, Joy of Life – 1930

Entertainment – our social gatherings have routinely been memorialised in paint, stone, metal and cloth. Here we show murals of music and dance from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, and a frieze of a banquet from an Afghan stupa.

The next pair represent dancing with these ladies from China’s Tang Dynasty moulded from mud, and the god Shiva depicted as the Lord of the Dance in bronze from the Indian Classical period.

The final pair are memoralising entertainment: the first is wool embroidered onto linen, showing the victory banquet following the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066. The second is Moser’s abstract image, entitled Dance or Loïe Fuller in the Dance (she was also painted by Toulouse Lautrec) and uses the movement of fabric to represent the dancer.


Egypt New Kingdom – 1390 BCE

East Afghanistan – 1st/2nd c CE

Tang dancers, Chang’an – 7th c

Classical India – 11th c

Bayeux Tapestry – 11th c

Vienna Secession – 1902

Contemplation – here we show four ways that artists have shown the subjects in contemplation. The first is the terracotta Thinker of Cernavoda, which was found in the lower Danube region. The second is a meditating Buddha, fabricated in black stone and from eastern India. Rodin originally created this sculpture as The Poet (Dante) contemplating the circles of Hell, but it became known as The Thinker. Freud’s self-portrait uses light and shade to depict the concentration on his face, it is also relevant because he would have used a mirror to produce this painting.


Thinker, Romania – 6,000 BCE

Bihar, Pala India – c 1000 CE

The Thinker – 1880-1881

Reflection – 1985

Dreaming – the first of this selection is of negative dreaming, Fuseli depicts a menacing ape-like creature sat upon the dreamer’s chest. Whereas Alsina shows a member of the Catalan bourgeoisie taking a siesta in a chair, albeit rather inelegantly.

Gauguin places a figure beside the sleeper, but perhaps in Tahiti the spirit of the dead watching you is more a reassurance than fearful? Rousseau has his sleeper projected into her dreams of a forest.

Picasso has his mistress napping in a chair, though there is rather more going on in this image. Dalí’s dreamer applies full-Surrealist ‘mode’ with a stilted elephant, tigers being emitted from a pomegranate and so on.

Only the Catalan slumped in the chair looks as if he is enjoying his dream.


The Nightmare – 1781

The Siesta – 1884

Spirit of the Dead – 1892

The Dream – 1910

The Dream – 1932

Flight of a Bee… – 1944

Affection – from 9,000 BCE the Ain Sakhri Lovers, discovered near Bethlehem, is one of the earliest extant erotic sculptures. Fragonard’s painting depicts the 18th c prim notions of love, though the sitter was Louis XV’s mistress.

Hayez’s The Kiss shows a passionate kiss, but its symbolism also includes passion for Italian nationalism/patriotism. Thirty years later Rodin’s The Kiss appears uncomplicated, but the two subjects are from Dante’s Divine Comedy, surprised during their first kiss and killed by her husband (a naked first kiss?).

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is the last of his Golden Epoch and is packed with cultural references, particularly Ancient Egyptian. But more recent comment focuses on the references to Klimt’s love for the sitter, Emilie Flöge. Egon Schiele’s The Embrace is full of sensuality, passion and desire.


Natufian Lovers – 9,000 BCE

The Meeting – 1771-1773

The Kiss – Hayez – 1859

The Kiss – Rodin – 1888-1889

The Kiss – Klimt – 1907-8

The Embrace – Schiele – 1917

Ecstacy – two selections show this extreme emotion. The first is Bellini’s St Francis in Ecstacy, possibly intended to show the moment that St Francis received his stigmata. Bernini shows St Teresa in Ecstacy, this is Teresa of Ávila, the mystical nun and author, in her reported encounter with an angel.


St Francis – Bellini – 1476-1480

St Teresa – Bernini – 1647-52

Extremes of behaviour – so far we have focused on positive emotions, but of course there are negative emotions too.

Donatello fashioned in wood Mary Magdalene in a penitent pose. Balla shows Matilde Garbini, a regular sitter for him, as The Madwoman, stood clumsily and unsteadily at the door.

Géricault’s Insane Woman is subtitled Woman with Obsessive Envy, an early example of Art Brut. Degas’ L’Absinthe reveals drunkenness a negative theme in social behaviour, .


Penitence – Donatello – 1453-5

Madwoman – Balla – 1905

Envy – Géricault – 1822

Drunkeness/Compulsion – 1875/6

Desperation Laocoön shows the father and sons as they battle with sea serpents, their musculature revealing their desperation and agony. Kahlo’s double self-portrait expressed her desperation and loneliness following the separation from Diego Rivera.

Courbet’s self-portrait is entitled The Desperate Man, though this is self-evident. Perraud produce this sculpture in plaster and then marble, as an allegory of the human condition.

Malczewski’s Melancholia assembles symbols evoking Polish national history. de Chirico’s work is entitled Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, suitably enigmatic for this geometric piece.

The agonised face in Munch’s painting has become one of the most iconic images of art. For over a decade Bacon produced Screaming Popes, initially inspired by the Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X.


Laocoön – Agony – 42BCE

Two Fridas – Desperation – 1939

Courbet – Desperation
1843-45

Perraud – Despair – 1869

Malczewski – Melancholia – 1890-4

de Chirico – Melancholy – 1914

Munch – The Scream – 1893

Bacon – Screaming Pope – 1953

Aggression – Across the years commemorating military and personal victories has been popular. The first selection, a painting of a battles that was discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb, from the 14th BCE. The sculpture of two wrestlers is from the Roman Republican period.

The next two selections depict rape, the Roman’s Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna, and Rubens Rape of the Daughters of Leuccipus.

The following two are versions of the same incident, Judith seduces the occupying Assyrian general, Holofernes, and then beheads him.

Allori depicts the attempted abuse of Susanna by the Elders. The last is Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, these people were cast adrift after a shipwreck, and eventually turned to cannibalism.


Belligerence – Tutankhamun

Roman Wrestlers – 3rd c BCE

Rape – Sabine Women – 1583

Rape – Leuccipus’ daughters – 1618

Caravaggio – 1599-1602

Gentileschi – 1612-13

Allori – Susanna and Elders – 1561

Géricault – Medusa Raft – 1818-9

Fear of Death, and its marking – the first two artworks are self-portraits where the artists, Arnold Böcklin and Lovis Corinth, use a skull and a skeleton to acknowledge their mortality.

The Death of Marat, shows the aftermath of the revolutionry leader’s stabbing by Corday while bathing. This was painted by Marat’s friend Jacques-Louis David who may have had other objectives in mind than simple remembrance – the creation of new heroes and legends following the French Revolution. The Death of Chatterton, the poet, is commemorated by Henry Wallis.

A Pietà was a popular theme, the dead adult Christ in his mother’s arms, the best, by a margin, being Michelanagelo’s. The final selection is a Young British Artist’s take on the subject, set in a war-torn modern city.


Böcklin – 1872

Corinth – 1896

Death of Marat – David – 1793

Death of Chatterton – Wallis – 1856

Pietà – Michelangelo – 1498-9

Blue Pieta – Saville – 2018

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