Why did Renaissance artists paint anachronistic reconstructions?

Feb 2019
33
Denmark
The first thing that comes to my mind when looking at Pieter Brueghel the Younger's depiction of the crucifixion of Christ, is the anachronism.

First of all, I wasn't aware that first century Jews looked like 16th century Dutch peasants.

Secondly, some of the buildings in the background look very... modern for first century Palestine.

Pieter Brueghel isn't the only renaissance painter to create modern anachronistic paintings, also a lot of medieval artists did some reconstruction attempts of the Bible-stories which looks very medieval, and not early Babylonian or Roman at all.

Why? Why didnt' the artists stay true to history?

 
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Feb 2019
831
Pennsylvania, US
They were trying to make the images understandable and relatable to the everyday person... religious paintings were often the only means of helping the uneducated or English speaker (masses were in Latin) understand the basic stories. They wanted to have people look at the crowds surrounding Jesus and think “that could be me”... “this could be my town”. Instead of looking at a scene of a foreign place and a foreign man, they placed it in a familiar time and place and removed the barriers.
 
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Feb 2019
831
Pennsylvania, US
Also, you could argue an individual artist could have legitimately not known what a Jew or city in that time may have looked like... or a Roman one either... or a Babylonian one. They didn't have museums or photographs of cities... anthropologists reconstructing clothing... Sooo... there's also that.

Personally I like the “relatable” argument. Especially as the gilded halos about the heads of saints and even Christ dissapeared in iconographic art to reflect the human-ness of the figures, I would think religious art was about reaching the people with something they felt was “real”.
 
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Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
6,497
Planet Nine, Oregon
Exactly; religious art was a powerful way to communicate the Christian stories to the illiterate masses, and helped magnify the power of the church. Many northern european artists had not seen classical art or had any real idea of what things looked like in ancient times. Or what lions and dolphins looked like for that matter, too! That began to change when more classical works were dug up. Mantegna and others, and later the great giants of Renaissance art were informed by the study of classical art and architecture from antiquity.
 
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Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
For a similar reason as to why "historical" movies in the 20th and 21st centuries have their characters speak in a way that is more modern and not sticking sticking to period-authentic language (with the rare exception of a film like The Witch) - we can identify and relate with the characters more, and it is more easily accessible to a modern audience. Art was about being as historically accurate as possible, but about getting across a message or theme, and details like clothing aren't that important to that end.
 

Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
6,497
Planet Nine, Oregon
Here in the USA, all characters from ancient history have to have an English accent or they aren't convincing to us..
 
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
Here in the USA, all characters from ancient history have to have an English accent or they aren't convincing to us..
My favourite stereotype is the Romans always having posh, upper-class British accents with aristocratic inflections. Cause they were snobby imperialists, get it?
 
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Feb 2019
33
Denmark
Thanks for the replies everyone. I didn't even consider that argument about relating contemporaries with ancient history in a way modern artists and film makers are still doing.
I didn't even consider the religious aspect either, I only looked at the painting as an artist's imagination of how the crucifixion scene could be historically reconstructed.

But if we consider the painting to have a specific religious meaning and conveying a message to contemporary people, it makes sense.
 

Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
6,497
Planet Nine, Oregon
Painting and sculpture (before photography and TV!) Were the most amazing things around for the average person.