Artists celebrate fatherhood in personal ways
Artists of old, when painting or sculpting father images, usually depicted their own life experiences. As is true even today, every person's experience is different and not always ideal. Quite a number of artists painted father figures, and each ...
Artists of old, when painting or sculpting father images, usually depicted their own life experiences. As is true even today, every person’s experience is different and not always ideal. Quite a number of artists painted father figures, and each tells a different story.
When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1510, he was influenced by fathers from many stations of life: Pope Julius, his own father and the influential zealot Savonarola. Father figures in his mind were not seen as gentle or always good examples of what it takes to be a man.
Michelangelo was a wealthy man. He chose to give what he made from sculpting and painting to his father and brother. His own lifestyle was Spartan - somewhat deprived in many ways - yet, for the times, his family lived well.
Pope Julius was a demanding father figure, who placed even more pressure on the artist during that critical period of his life as Michelangelo was dealing with his own father’s privileged selfishness. He needed work and money to help his father, took on painting, which he felt was beneath him, and then had to put up with a self-aggrandizing critic who wanted to tell him how to do his work. Michelangelo finally finished after four years, but even then he was never satisfied with the “father panel” in the center of the chapel.
Savonarola had already been burned at the stake, but the monk left an indelible impression on the Renaissance sculptor. The monk hated images of people, burned many artists’ works in his “bonfire of the vanities,” and the sculptor felt conflicted by his own talents and subjects.
Michelangelo chose to live in the background, working on art until his last days. He painted “God the Father” with a terrifying face and Adam as a vulnerable man. His vision of fatherhood was skewed by extremists of his time.
Pope Paul III was painted by Titian in 1545. It shows the pope as a stooped grandfather of his own two grandsons. Titian shows the pontiff as a controlling and power-hungry, old man, as well as a religious figurehead with plans to promote his grandson to cardinal.
Titian was well-heeled as a Renaissance painter of kings, popes and the powerful. He was quite the opposite of Michelangelo; he lived a life filled with luxury and beauty.
Some artists depicted their father enjoying the beauty of art. Edgar Degas, in 1869, painted his father listening to Lorenzo Pagas. He captured the musician and his dad hitting a visual note we all understand: a beautiful chord on the guitar. You can feel his father’s connection; his eyes and body language communicates that joy.
In 1836, Auguste de Chatillion painted Victor Hugo and his son, Francois-Victor. Again, body language discloses their relationship: Father controlling son. Hugo has his left arm on the son’s frail shoulder and his other hand seems almost to be squeezing his son’s right arm, making him stand still. The child looks very uncomfortable. The artist captured that fear.
Then finally, a more contemporary Norman Rockwell depicted fatherhood beautifully. When painting a new “daddy,” Rockwell placed the small bundle in daddy’s arms, mother lovingly looking at her baby’s face, and behind the new trio is the ghostly image of that soldier, the soldier-father who fought for the freedoms those three could share.
All the artists represented fatherhood. They depicted the role men were given in the Bible, where directions on leadership were laid out and whose position as “family head” was well-respected. They maintain that title as “Fathers of our country.”
It is a role cherished. It is a role honored in secular and religious annuls. It is a role respected and hard to live up to, but a role to which someone in each family needs to own and is well worth honoring on Father’s Day. Celebrate Father’s Day Sunday with a family selfie.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.