Learn how to read a painting – the composition

Learn how to read a painting | the composition

by Yolanda Silva, author of the online course Analysing Art.

Cover image – Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, Thomas Gainsborough, 1750

How to read a painting

analysing artRead a painting is a process with several elements.

Having always as a base the historical data that can be collected through parallel research, we can list, then the elements of visual analysis that assist us in the formal analysis process.

Note that the elements here exposed are examples that should be tailored to the specific needs of each piece in question.

The steps for the formal analysis are.

1. Identification;

2. Technical data;

3. Theme;

4. Function;

5. Structure (basic and essential considerations);

6. Composition.

How to read a painting – the composition

It refers to the organization of the parts that make up the whole which is the pictorial structure itself.

It concerns the analysis of colours, lines, volumes, light, etc.

Composition

It refers to the lines that organize the painting.

  • Is it simple or complex?
  • Is it geometrical order or is it random?
  • Is it saturated or is there space?
  • Are there patterns, balance, symmetries?

How to read a painting composition

Jacques Louis David -Oath of the Horatii-1784

Drawing

It concerns the function of the line: its thickness and shape.

Berthe Morisot The Artists Daughter. (absence of drawing lines)

Berthe Morisot The Artists Daughter. (absence of drawing lines)

Volume

How is the three-dimensional shape achieved.

Vase in perspective Paolo Uccello, Early Renaissance

Vase in perspective
Paolo Uccello, Early Renaissance

Colours

  • What are the dominants?
  • Are they neutral, hot or cold?
  • Primary or complementary?
  • Do they have a meaning?
caravaggio Extasis de Maria

Caravaggio often uses red to draw the observer’s attention

Light

It refers to the provenance of light and its effects.

A Vocação de São Mateus, Caravaggio

Caravaggio, 1599-1600 Calling of Saint Matthew

Let’s see a little about it in the presentation that follows.

Learn about Art History and Art Analysis

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