Studies in Western Art No.5
Special Issue :
Art and the Gesturing Body

March, 2001



A Round-table talk on the Present Issue

Shuji Takashina / Ken-ichi Sasaki / Shigetoshi Osano



Salvatore Settis
Translated by Motoaki Ishii

Images of Meditation, Uncertainty and Repetance in Ancient Art

While the language of gesture was formed in real life, it is imbued with specific meaning once it is incorporated into artistic iconography. Although this meaning must necessarily be condensed into a sign of stylistic integrity, once it has been thus schematized, it enters as iconography into the plastic arts broadly defined. Its point of arrival is the pictorial image-as-sign. This article attempts to follow this process while examining concrete examples of the iconography of meditation, uncertainty and repentance in ancient art.

Maria Luisa Catoni
Translated by Taro Hyuga

When a Youth becomes a Satyr

In ancient Greece the comos and the symposium were clearly distinct occasions, in origin. The former, associated with satyrs, were characterized by immoderate drinking, disorderly music, and especially a particular gesture that derived from the satyric dance, sikinnis, formularized during the sixth century B.C. The latter was the privileged occasion for discourse held by good citizens, which was characterized by moderate drinking, games and measured music.
This distinction is revealed by vase paintings and literary sources (Theognis, Archilocos, Aristophanes etc.). At times, however, ancient painters ignored the distinction and represented on drinking vessels men who behave themselves like satyrs in a symposium. A kylix in the possession of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts presents an example of such witty play.
Participants in a symposium, who noticed paintings as such, talked about and refleced upon life, pleasure, and the proper way of drinking, confirming rules that the good citizens must observe. In this sense, it can be said that the satyric dance played an important role in enlightening citizens about the rules under which their polis existed.

Shigetoshi Osano

The Usefulness and Limitations of Interpreting Gesture in Painting
With a Focus on Secular Works of the Later Middle Ages and Early Renaissance

The article opens with an overview of the limitations imposed on the pictorial representation of gesture by both painting style and subject matter. The opening section is followed by a reconsideration of previous interpretations of the signum harpocraticum and the gestures made by the couple's hands in Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Double Portrait. The author then demonstrates both the polysemic and ambivalent nature of gesture in secular representations of the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance. This argument is made through a discussion of the four woodbox tablets of bust-and three-quarter-size figures in secular scenes in the early fifteenth-century sketchbook of Jaques Daliwe in Berlin.
Furthermore, the author asserts that for a drawing of a single nude woman in six different poses and the Annunciation, Pisanello most likely had a living model act out the myth of the Venus Anadyomene and recorded these in reverse order, in a fashion similar to the winding back of the frames of a film reel one-by-one; this reversal proceeds from the famous pose of the goddess wringing water from her hair back to the moment she arises from the sea. Previously, it has been observed that the footwork and carriage of the nude woman are similar to the bassadanza's movements as described in fifteenth-century dance treatises. The final portion of this article builds upon this observation and makes connections between the dance treatises and the representation of movement in fifteenth-century Renaissance painting in terms of that period's behavioral decorum.

Kikuro Miyashita

Caravaggio's Gesture
From Expression to Symbol

Gesture plays an important role in the paintings of Caravaggio. In The Calling of St.Matthew, the problem concerning the identity of the saint relates to the gestures of the characters in the painting. The man with a moustache in the center of the table does not point to himself with his forefinger but to the young man next to him who drops his head. These two men seem to refer to the parable in the Gospel according to St. Luke of the good tax collector and Parisaian. The gesture of the open arms which I call the 'orans' type is found in many Caravaggio paintings. This gesture -- which reflects the current of palaeo- Christian culture -- seems spontaneous but imbues the work with profound meaning, suggesting the Crucifixion. The symbolic role of the expressive gesture seems to be one of the characteristics of Caravaggio's art.

Maryvonne Saison
Translated by Atsushi Miura / Hiroaki Nakata

The Actor's Performance
J. J. Engel's Theory of Gesture

In 1795, a theoretical treatise concerning the gesture and performance of theater actors by the 18th-century German philosopher, professor and playwright Johann Jacob Engel was translated into French as Idees sur le geste et l'action theatrale. Whereas previously the corporeal language of the theater had been based on painting and oratorical skill, this treatise reconceptualized it along with the relationship between mind and body. In addition to its portrayal of the actor as an artist who explores the end results of this relationship, Engel's text ultimately asserts that the actor's performance takes music as its model and intends to move from description towards expression. Art historically, this theory originates from a different starting point than Le Brun's classicist theory concerning the expression of emotions. Furthermore, while sharing some similarities with Diderot's theory of acting, which has a closer connection to painting, it nevertheless can be differentiated from it, and demonstrates a unique aesthetic stance. As a treatise which examines the theory of gesture, which lies at the core of not just theater history but the history of the arts as a whole, Engel's text is an important work that can be situated at the transition between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Masayuki Tanaka

The Pose of Ariadne and Voluptas

This article examines the meaning of the typical pose of the reclining female figure with an arm cast back over the head, of which the best known example is the famous Hellenistic statue of Sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican. Through a discussion of the "misreadings" of the subject of the Vatican statue, such as "Cleopatra" and "Sleeping Fountain Nymph," and the associations drawn from these readings, I argue that the pose can be related to the concept of voluptas, which in ancient and Renaissance thought indicates spiritual union with god and calmness and liberation from agonies. During the subsequent development of Western art the pose became a common expression of sexual desire, the earthly and vulgar Voluptas. This slippage from the heavenly to the earthly possibly led to the use of the gesture in images that explicitly or implicitly invoke a voyeuristic desire. It can be argued, however, that the connection between the pose of Ariadne and the spiritual and noble Voluptas reemerges in Matisse's works.
Matisse's use of the pose developed from Luxe, calme et volupte through Joie de Vivre, and he concentrated on the gesture in Blue Nude and his sculptural piece Reclining Nude I. It is quite noteworthy that in these works, in which the painter pursues the idea of volupte and happiness of life, the pose of Ariadne comes to the fore. It is also noteworthy that "calme" and "volupte" are the keywords of the original Epicurean appraisal of Voluptas as good. The connection between the pose of Ariadne and the heavenly Voluptas is also discernible in his Music Lesson, in which his own sculpture, Reclining Nude I, is placed in the garden as a fountain nymph. This reminds us of the first Vatican Ariadne's setting in the Belvedere Garden as a fountain and also the other fountain nymph statues in Renaissance gardens. The Reclining Nude statue in Music Lesson functioned as a muse of artistic inspiration or as a symbol of Voluptas, much as these Renaissance nymphs did in their original context.

Norimasa Yamada

The Gesture by the maid in Vermeer's The Milkmaid

Although Lessing defined painting as the art of space, numerous painters have tried since ancient times to incorporate movements into their artworks. Vermeer has been admired for his ability to depict photograph-like moments of subtle movements of the human figures in his paintings.
This article analyzes the embodied movement in Vermeer's famous painting The Milkmaid in order to investigate Vermeer's meticulous technique. A three-dimensional image of the jug in the painting was reconstructed on computer with a three-dimensional software program. The jug was placed in a three-dimensional space reconstructed from the painting using the theory of perspective as well as the known sizes of other objects in the painting, while the movement of the flow of milk from the jug was analyzed as well.
The results of analysis showed that the jug held by the maid's arm must be moving slightly for the milk to be flowing from the jug. Furthermore, many viewers have noticed a slight arm movement in the maid's gesture in the painting. These observations imply that Vermeer has succeeded in depicting figures that convey subtle movements to viewers through a consideration of the dynamics of human motion based on perception.

Sources and Documents
Translations with Annotations

Hideo Katayama

Giovanni Bonifaccio, L'arte de'cenni, Vicenza, 1616

Kazuaki Ura

Guglielmo Ebreo, Trattato dell'arte del ballo, 15c.


Book Review

Kyoko Haga

Richard Brilliant, Gesture and Rank in Roman Art
The Use of Gestures to Denote Status in Roman Sculpture and Coinage

Masahiko Mori

Daniel Arasse, Le sujet dans le tableau
Essais d'iconographie analytique

Michiko Fukaya

Harry Berger Jr., Fictions of the Pose
Rembrandt against the Italian Renaissance


Kikuro Miyashita / Hiroaki Nakata

Exhibition Review

Toru Arayashiki

Raphael Collin(Sizuoka / Fukuoka / Simane / Tokyo / Chiba / Ehime, 1999-2000)

Kayo Hirakawa

Raphael und der klassische Stil in Rom 1515-1527(Mantova / Wien, 1999)

Yoriko Kobayashi

The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer(Osaka, 2000)

Dutch Art in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer
(Aichi / Tokyo, 2000)