Movement on a Canvas

by pamneely on November 23, 2010

We cannot make our paint move, but by a careful placing of our lines and shapes with the canvas we can make the spectator’s eye move. And because it is so important to achieve movement within a frame we must consider it in the same way as we did the simple placing of our shapes in an unequal pattern. We can use a bold flowing movement across the canvas, or we can force the eye to move round the picture by a series of cunningly placed accents and shapes that entice the eye willy-nilly to move whether it wants to or not.

In the painting ‘The Deposition’ by Ugolino da Siena from the National Gallery, we have a good example of the simple way this device is used.

There is little or no depth in this picture to draw the eye away from the central dramatic theme. Instead the eye is concentrated on the main action. The displacement of the figure is perfectly balanced and the eye is moved from the bottom of the picture on the right, round and upwards and along the heads and down and round again, this time coming up through the cross and through the body of Christ and round again (Fig. 39).


Apart from the movement, the placing of the cross is just right and to avoid any thin shape made by it, a figure with its arm over the cross is carefully placed. Triangles abound here, and though, in the main, it is a simple, uncomplicated picture on the face of it, in fact it is both complicated and simple at the same time, a feat not often attempted in European art and much more in evidence among the paintings of China and Japan.

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