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Building the Picture

Five contemporary perspectives on imagined architecture and how closely the modern arts of design parallel those of Italian Renaissance painters.

More from Building the Picture (5 videos)

  • John David Rhodes:

    When we go to the cinema, we go to leave one space behind and enter another space. That is obviously one of the principle delights of film-going, of watching a moving image, is the possibility that we will be able to enter another space. So cinema is forever staging that, often quite concretely, as concretely as we see Renaissance painting staging that. A film may emphasise an architectural structure or a surface or a threshold so as to stage our entry into the film.

    At the very beginning of Douglas Sirk’s ‘Written on the Wind’, which was released in 1956, as we move into the film what we’re doing is we’re moving towards the threshold of a house. In this film it’s the Hadley mansion, this enormous mansion. The film brings us right up to the very threshold. The door is open, we can see the vestibule beyond and we realise this is the world that we’re entering. And the film is really staging that possibility of entering this world for us.

    When we look at Antonello’s ‘Saint Jerome in his Study’, what we have is this wonderful possibility of moving into the world of this picture.

    As we move into the picture, we notice these small details of everyday life that seem to splinter the picture, not only into different smaller spaces inside the larger totality of the image, but also into different times. So if we notice his slippers at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the platform, we imagine the moment at which he might have taken those off.
    But if we move deeper into the image, we see also the landscape in the very background that’s framed for us by the windows that are on the left and the right-hand side of the image. There’s another temporality, a sort of ongoingness of everyday life that clearly mirrors back to us the ongoingness of our everyday life from where we stand in front of the picture. So suddenly, there’s not just the present moment of Saint Jerome in the centre of the image, there’s a splintering of narrative time across the image, and so it becomes much more complicated. 

    We see something very similar in cinema. For instance, if we think about the wonderful scenes of Lora Meredith’s living room in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 ‘Imitation of Life’, there’s this vast overwhelming wealthy suburban mansion. There’s actually too much to see all at once. Even though the images move by rather fleetingly, they impress us with a sense of wanting to arrest the image and make it our own and be able to scour its surfaces with our eyes in a way that’s not unlike what we do with the Renaissance painting. 

    So one thing that’s very clear from looking at Renaissance painting, particularly Renaissance paintings that have privileged the architectural in some way, is that this is where cinematic space is born. This is where, in a sense, the cinema comes from. That the pleasure of these paintings consists in the possibility that one will enter into the space in all of its detail, in all of its manifold variety and depth. I think that the pleasure of cinema clearly is the same pleasure. What cinema promises us is what the Renaissance painting promises us, which is that we can enter into a world and apprehend a world, if only with our eyes. 

    I think that’s why we return again and again to these images, both to these paintings and to the cinema, is this possibility of entering something, if only imaginatively.




    John David Rhodes: Entering the Picture

    How do Italian renaissance painters and Hollywood film directors use architecture to get us to 'enter the picture'?

    Taking Antonello da Messina's 'Saint Jerome in his Study,' about 1475, and the films of 1950s director Douglas Sirk as examples, film historian John David Rhodes reveals how both use the same devices to stage entrances, fracture time across space and make us long to enter the detailed worlds they create.

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    How do Italian renaissance painters and Hollywood film directors use architecture to get us to 'enter the picture'?

    Taking Antonello da Messina's 'Saint Jerome in his Study,' about 1475, and the films of 1950s director Douglas Sirk as examples, film historian John David Rhodes reveals how both use the same devices to stage entrances, fracture time across space and make us long to enter the detailed worlds they create.

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

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    John David Rhodes: Entering the Picture

    Movie
  • Martha Fiennes:  ‘Nativity’ is an artwork, it’s a moving image artwork, and it’s the first of its kind and within this image the content self-generates perpetually and continuously.

    Pete Muggleston: I think the main difference between SLOimage technology and standard film technology, is the fact that we’re allowing the computer to randomly generate and choose the images that are put together. It’s like an enormous chess game and it’s thinking 500 moves ahead.

    Martha Fiennes: This rigid idea of beginning, middle and end in traditional movie making gives way to a continuous cycle, non-predictable cycle. Sometimes it’s very desolate and crumbled and ruinous and rather depressing in an interesting way, I think. At other times it births itself into what we would traditionally consider a very beautiful architectural context. 

    In gathering together all the imagery to start making ‘Nativity’, certainly the Botticelli ‘Adoration of the Kings’ was a very significant point of inspiration, the tondo. It’s a beautiful, extraordinary painting. There’s so much movement implicit in it I felt, and this sense always to me of the painter’s longing to evoke movement, which is of course what one could freely do in filmmaking, but to give it an aliveness, a sense of narrative. And also little details of extraordinary little things, connections with people, the monkey, and of course the Virgin at the centre.
    But architecture is such an important context to it as well. And for me, I was very much drawn to when the artist has obviously used architecture as an interpretation. It’s not literal. It doesn’t work in a practical sense.

    Pete Muggleston: To create the perspectives, as you know from a computer CGI point of view, it automatically gives you perfect perspectives. But as we know from Renaissance paintings, the perspective is all slightly out.  So what we asked the computer to do was after it had put it perfect we would then just bend everything slightly and it all came slightly out. One of the reasons we did this for certain elements, say like a row of columns, was we wanted to be able to see more of the faces than you would actually see in reality.

    Martha Fiennes: What does become interesting for me about architecture and the spaces of living, is this idea of the laws of entropy, of the continual erosion of space, whether it’s to do with weather, or the making do-ness, or the fact the cloth appears dirty and grubby, and in the tondo we have that piece of the makeshift wood propping up the stonework. And it’s like an ongoing process. You’re always having to sweep the leaves from the gutter regularly, or something cracks and gets old and you’re always keeping up the process of being human and being in the world.  And then we have this other endless energy of the force of life constantly, constantly unfolding and manifesting itself. And it is surely the human condition to have to negotiate both worlds, and this subject matter and this story, and these elements, and the architecture, all echo that idea I think.


    Martha Fiennes: Nativity

    Acclaimed film director, Martha Fiennes, reveals how architecture in Italian Renaissance painting inspired her groundbreaking computer-generated artwork, 'Nativity.'

    Fiennes talks about the ruined architectural setting of Sandro Botticelli's 'The Adoration of the Kings', about 1470-5, and with technical producer, Pete Muggleston, explains how they created an ever-changing, randomly generated environment to suggest a continuous cycle of decay, rebirth and life. 

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    Acclaimed film director, Martha Fiennes, reveals how architecture in Italian Renaissance painting inspired her groundbreaking computer-generated artwork, 'Nativity.'

    Fiennes talks about the ruined architectural setting of Sandro Botticelli's 'The Adoration of the Kings', about 1470-5, and with technical producer, Pete Muggleston, explains how they created an ever-changing, randomly generated environment to suggest a continuous cycle of decay, rebirth and life. 

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

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    Martha Fiennes: Nativity

    Movie
  • Peter Zumthor: If I have to do a building I have an image of what the building should be and how it should be, what kind of atmosphere it should have. And this is not a moral category or ethical category of honesty or not honesty. This is more being truthful to my feeling for the place or my feeling for the task, for the use of the building.

    Designing for me is sort of a physical act. At the end is a physical object and I have to make sure that I, as soon as possible, get in contact with this physical object I'm dreaming of. And a dream is also in my case, if I dream of a building, it's an image. It's not an abstract thought. I don't have any abstract dreams. I only have concrete dreams. [laughs]

    Leah Kharibian: A lot of Renaissance depictions of architecture are works of the imagination. They're dreamed buildings.

    [Peter: Sure]

    And this little painting by Ercole de' Roberti from about 1490, where he imagines the stable of the Nativity which suggests to him the origins of architecture, the wooden structure, but it's also done in the very latest form, to a Renaissance viewer, the very latest form of architecture. So he's both got a very primal and a very modern element going on at the same time. And I wondered if that was something that was also in your work?

    Peter Zumthor:  Time to me, I can only imagine, so that it really means something to me, is the moment I live. I'm living, obviously, in this moment and I'm surrounded by things which come from the past. I myself I'm 99% history. And if I look around I'm surrounded by things which have been made by people, they might not even live anymore. The trees outside they are older than me, and they will outlive me. I love this. This gives me a feeling of, I must be part of something bigger. [bells ringing] So with this feeling doing houses means, yes, let’s do a house which can be a part of time. Maybe, if it's successful as a building, and successful for me would be loved by people, to use it or something. Then you can tell the building knows something about time, knows about the time before and the time which might come.

    Leah Kharibian:  So does the building have a form of intelligence if it's a good building?

    Peter Zumthor:  The building has a form of soul. Intelligence to me is this laser line there. I prefer to say it has a soul, or a heart.  A soul is good, because this is the big thing. Yes, a good building should have a soul.


    Peter Zumthor: Real and Imagined Buildings

    Peter Zumthor, internationally acclaimed Swiss architect, gives a rare interview in which he reveals his thoughts on imagined buildings, dreams and architectural time.

    Including footage of his Thermal Baths, Vals and Saint Benedict's Chapel, Sumtvitg, Zumthor responds to the depiction of the stable in Ercole de' Roberti's 'Nativity', about 1490, by declaring ''a good building should have a soul.''

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition ‘Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting’ (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    Peter Zumthor, internationally acclaimed Swiss architect, gives a rare interview in which he reveals his thoughts on imagined buildings, dreams and architectural time.

    Including footage of his Thermal Baths, Vals and Saint Benedict's Chapel, Sumtvitg, Zumthor responds to the depiction of the stable in Ercole de' Roberti's 'Nativity', about 1490, by declaring ''a good building should have a soul.''

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition ‘Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting’ (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    Read More
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    Peter Zumthor: Real and Imagined Buildings

    Movie
  • T J Clark:

    What kind of questions are the most productive questions to ask of Italian Renaissance painting?
    We're looking here at a very large altarpiece, very grand, done at the very end of the 15th century, 1498-1500, by Costa and Maineri. And by the time they were working on this, the machinery of illusionism had been completely perfected. They knew how to do architectural depth. They knew how to do the soft shine of light on armour. They had the world of illusion at their fingertips. Where do we stand in the illusion it makes? What kind of space are we invited into? I think the answers to that often are very perplexing. We ask the question and the answer is not at all obvious.
       
    This painting is a wonderful example of that. Where are we exactly? We seem to be certainly inside some marvellous architectural structure. But are we safely in an interior or at the threshold of some buildings? Maybe in some kind of portico or loggia or anteroom, or throne room, well it's certainly a throne room. There's the Virgin perched on her high marble plinth. What a marvellous and impossible piece of architecture it is. And, of course, the ins and outs are punctuated and sort of accelerated by the fact of sculpture and painting and mosaic-work being on every bending surface.


    Then look above. Does the throne have a back? Perhaps we're immediately invited to think it does. There seems to be a red draped rear to the throne. But then we realise, because two other curtains give us the clue to what we're looking at are drapes, red curtains of some sort, maybe velvet, which seem to be hung on the outside of the barrel vault. Really rather far back, it seems, behind the Virgin.

    So we're very, very quickly put in a strange space, a sort of space that's shuttling between near and far, shallowness and depth. We’re put at a limen, in some kind of liminal space, some passageway between outside and in. Maybe between secular and sacred, or private and public. And this seems to me completely typical of Renaissance painting at this point.
       
    It’s as if painting absolutely revels in its ability to make uncanny, impossible but completely convincing other worlds. Worlds which look extraordinarily plausible and into which we feel we can enter, but as we enter we begin to realise their strangeness, their foreignness, their not quite belonging to any world we normally inhabit. 

    T J Clark: Strange Space

    Renowned art historian T J Clark explores the strange space created within Lorenzo Costa and Gianfrancesco Maineri's 'The Virgin and Child with Saints', about 1498-1500.

    Taking one of the great altarpieces in the National Gallery as his example, T J Clark reveals how the highly illusionistic architectural spaces Italian Renaissance painters create are far from what they seem.

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    Renowned art historian T J Clark explores the strange space created within Lorenzo Costa and Gianfrancesco Maineri's 'The Virgin and Child with Saints', about 1498-1500.

    Taking one of the great altarpieces in the National Gallery as his example, T J Clark reveals how the highly illusionistic architectural spaces Italian Renaissance painters create are far from what they seem.

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    Read More
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    T J Clark: Strange Space

    Movie
  • Peter Gornstein: Virtual worlds have no limits, right? You can go anywhere, it can be any kind of environment. Only the imagination basically sets boundaries.


    The environment role is to set the framework for the story. To subconsciously tell and get the emotion across that you'd like the player or the actor or the viewer to experience. We're using depth, we're using space, we're using light. All of these tools are used to tell the story exactly the same way that a Renaissance painter would do.

    In an environment all the smaller objects are there to inform the player or the viewer of what we call the tertiary story, the background story, the story that's not being told by words.

    Often in a setting we'll have background characters, just as the Renaissance painters did. And we'll use them to tell a story or to guide the eye. So a person will cross the screen in order to lead the eye exactly where you want the player or the viewer to see. In a sense you can say we often use the camera as well as the background characters to sort of guide the eye through the space.

    As with Crivelli, nothing is incidental, everything is planned. That's how these things are created. Nothing is left to chance.

    I think when you look at the Venusti picture and look at the setting of, for instance, Nero's palace, then you can see a lot of similarities. We have the columns, the space, we use the same sort of depth of field, we use the same vertical composition because we want to emphasise greatness, we want to emphasise scale, we want to emphasise almost a superhuman or godly presence. What he does is create very vertical space to constantly remind the viewer to look upwards to get a sense of the grandeur of something larger than life.

    The development process starts very much like when you do a movie. We start with sketches. We start with brainstorming, talking through the ideas. Then we move into loose concept sketches where we kind of sketch out and feel for it. We settle down on our artistic style. With ‘Ryse: Son of Rome’, we very early on decided that we wanted to make something that looked Roman but uniquely Roman, so we merged Art Deco into the style of classical Roman. Then, once we decided on the style, then we go to more finished renders. Then we go to what's called white-boxing, which is actually building almost like with Lego, you build the environment up and make sure that it fits the camera, fits the player path. Then lastly, once we've decided on that and it works for the game play as well as for the cinematics, then we decide to actually texture, render and finish up the environment, adding light of course and final polishes at the end.

    Obviously as the art director I'm just the representative of an incredibly talented and diversified team of lighters, 3D modelers, compositors, builders, a whole bunch just like a Renaissance master would have a whole studio of people helping him. It actually works very much in a similar way, the way we do it now in the computer games industry.

    Peter Gornstein: Virtual Environments

    Discover how much the modern computer games industry and Italian Renaissance painters have in common.

    Crytek’s Peter Gornstein reveals the surprising similarities between the virtual environments created for video game 'Ryse: Son of Rome' and the painted architectural settings of Carlo Crivelli's 'The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius', 1486, and Marcello Venusti's 'The Purification of the Temple', after 1550.

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    Discover how much the modern computer games industry and Italian Renaissance painters have in common.

    Crytek’s Peter Gornstein reveals the surprising similarities between the virtual environments created for video game 'Ryse: Son of Rome' and the painted architectural settings of Carlo Crivelli's 'The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius', 1486, and Marcello Venusti's 'The Purification of the Temple', after 1550.

    This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' (30 April – 21 September 2014).

    Read More
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    Peter Gornstein: Virtual Environments

    Movie
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