by Lynne Rutter
In making studies of clouds I am constantly surprised and awed by what I see. Nature truly is the most influential of all the artists, full of shocking and inspiring colors and compositions. I have learned so much about color just watching the sky change over the course of an hour.
As a muralist I often look at the work of the master artists who came before me, for technical advice as well as inspiration. Some are known for their wonderful figurative murals or portraits, others for brilliant trompe l’oeil. To whom do you look for the best clouds? Artists like Andrea Pozzo and Daniel Gran both are so famous for their illusionistic painting, that maybe they don’t get enough credit for composing really beautiful clouds: clouds that break out of the “sky” and jump into the room; clouds that are carrying groups of figures and yet still managing to fly up, create depth, and add color to dramatically designed scenes. To my mind no one paints cloudscapes better than Giambattista Tiepolo. The virtuosic star of 18th century Venetian art, he painted larger-than-life goddesses and substantial allegorical figures seated in clouds that look as comfortable as down-filled cushions and light as a single feather. Tiepolos murals are filled with light, and the most beautiful color palettes imaginable.
Join me here on a tour of some of my favorite clouds murals.
The center of the ceiling in the spectacularly painted Camera degli Sposi is one of the earliest examples of the di sotto in sù effect. While the cloudscape in this ceiling is extremely simple, it’s effective because the scale of the clouds is consistent with what one could possibly view through an oculus of this size.
The oldest surviving fully enclosed theater in the world, the Teatro Olimpico has the feeling of an open amphitheater in ancient Rome, thanks to this spectacular painted cloud mural over the cavea (seating area). This theater was designed by the great Renaissance architect Palladio and seeing it was one of the top ten experiences of my artistic life. When I took this picture I could barely operate the camera as my eyes were filled with tears.
The surrounding quadratura and anamorphic dome next to it get a lot more attention, but the action of Andrea Pozzo‘s famous ceiling mural takes place in its center- St. Ignatius of Loyola carried up to heaven by clouds that have reached into the church to scoop him up, assisted by angels. The clouds are composed as strategically as the rest of the painting. Tip: take a mirror to this church with you. Have a seat, look down into the mirror at the reflection of the ceiling. You will see a lot of different things this way (as well as spare your neck!)
More about the overall decoration than about reality, the colors of Daniel Gran‘s clouds play right into the décor of the rest of the interior, taking the room into its composition and the viewer along with it. The Prunksaal (Austrian National Library) in Vienna is one of those amazing over the top Baroque libraries.
Martin Johann Schmidt‘s colorful cloudscape whirls around the figures and spirals upward, enhancing the foreshortening of the figures and creating a soaring effect. I love how the angel is holding up the lantern, drawing the room into the mural, and visa-versa!
How do you support larger than life figures and still manage to make the clouds airy and filled with light? Watch and learn as Tiepolo does this with ease.
Multiple levels of clouds and strong contrast in Tiepolo’s Manin ceiling mural create depth and support the action in this allegorical tale in which sorority sisters Virtue and Nobility send out their posse of cherubs to put Ignorance in her place once and for all. Behind the hair-pulling drama, a bright yellow cloud juxtaposed over a deep purple one: kapow!
This simple cloud mural creates a sense of elegant calm as you ascend the ornate white plaster staircase of the beautiful Rococo wing of the Charlottenburg Palace.
Real clouds do the most amazing and beautiful things. My best compositional references come from nature. Flickr and google images have thousands of unbelievable pictures of amazing clouds. Do you take cloud pictures too? If so, consider joining the flickr pool “Painterly Clouds” and add your inspiring shots.
Nature inspire the composition of this dome cloud mural but I looked to maestro Tiepolo to inspire the painting technique, and for “permission” to make the sky purple and orange.
first image: Giambattisa Tiepolo: oil sketch for Perseus and Andromeda (1730) The Frick Collection, New York photo: Frick Collection
Read more about murals, ornament, and a muralist’s inspiration in general at Lynne’s blog The Ornamentalist.
For more references to great painted ceilings check out Lynne’s bookstore and in particular:
©Lynne Rutter 2011