The very spirit of an artwork remains in the time it was created. There is no better way to appreciate art than to understand its situational context, that is, the space and time of its creation. Works of art are like photographs taken in a particular time and place.
In this paper we explore the situational context of three works of art: (1) Produced in the late seventeenth century, Wedding of Mary and Joseph is Peruvian painting; (2) Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Acrobats At The Cirque Fernando (1879) shows two young Parisian girls; and (3) Figure of a Mother Holding a Child, created in the nineteenth century by an unknown Lulua artist (See Appendix). All three pieces of art tell interesting, unique tales about their makers and the conditions of their times.
What’s more, layers upon layers of human thought through different times and places of human history may be unearthed through this process of art appreciation. Our present understanding of historical societies and cultures must also influence the process of interpreting a work of art. After all, one scholar may consider a painting with the eyes of a sociologist in our time, while another may be a trained psychologist. Such designations did not exist before now. Regardless of how an artwork is interpreted and with what lens and in which frame it is looked through; works of art stay alive as we glean historical information through them.
As the following section on Wedding of Mary and Joseph shows, it is possible to develop various interpretations about the time and place of an artist even if researched historical information is there to assist us in our interpretation. Wedding of Mary and Joseph Produced by an unknown artist, Wedding of Mary and Joseph is an oil painting on canvas, depicting the couple getting married before the high priest who is clothed in a “richly flower-patterned hooded mantle (“Wedding of Mary and Joseph”). ” There are clergymen assisting the high priest. Joseph is carrying his staff which has flowers at the top.
Moreover, both the bride and bridegroom have golden halos. Ann, the mother of Mary stands right behind the bride. By Ann’s side is a suitor of Mary who has been rejected by God’s command. The suitor is shown breaking his staff, which has not flowered like the staff of Joseph (“Wedding of Mary and Joseph”). The painting is enriched by “gold stamping,” which “unifies the composition (“Wedding of Mary and Joseph”). ” There are Peruvian flowers scattered on the ground where Mary and Joseph stand. This transfers the scene of the Bible from the Holy Land to Peru (“Wedding of Mary and Joseph”).
Furthermore, it describes an important movement in Peruvian art history by the name of Cusco School (Bennett). Indeed, this painting accompanies a very important period in Peruvian history. Spanish colonization had not only managed to transfer the Spanish Inquisition to the Spanish territories around the globe, but also brought European art into Peru (Bennett). The Spanish Inquisition had claimed many lives in Europe. In Peru, the Inquisition had centered on the discovery of people who were Jews by birth, but had claimed to have converted to Christianity. These people were suspected to have gone back from Catholicism to Judaism.
Thus, the Peruvian Inquisition was about punishing the Jews or converted Catholics for apostasy (Lea). The Peruvian Inquisition had taken place in the seventeenth century. Seeing that the sociopolitical environment of Peru revolved around religious affairs at the time, it is not surprising that the Christian, Peruvian artists started a new art movement – the Cusco School – to create religious art in particular (Bennett). As a matter of fact, the Wedding of Mary and Joseph is a perfect example of Cusco art. The Cusco School happens to be the largest movement of art in the Peruvian art history.
The movement was represented by “mestizo painters and sculptors who produced countless depictions of religious figures adorned in gold (Bennett). ” The Spanish colonizers had used religious art to teach Christianity to the New World. Subsequently, the native artists of Peru had begun to meld European art with their local style and tradition (Bennett). So, while the figures of Mary and Joseph in the Peruvian painting reveal European, Christian influence on the Peruvian artist; the flowers and long tailed birds of Peru scattered on the ground show that the artist continues to love his land despite colonization.
The golden halos of the bride and the bridegroom are, of course, the signature of the Cusco School. Hence, the painting, Wedding of Mary and Joseph, reveals itself as an excellent tool to understand the culture of Peru with respect to Spanish colonization. By discovering more about the conditions of the artist’s time, history of the Americas may also be studied in great depth. Moreover, this painting helps viewers to appreciate how artists are influenced by their environments and the times.