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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ruin Uses in Art

One of the things we are researching is how ruins have been used in the past. There are plenty of examples of ruins integrated into cities, and it is interesting to see how these ruins were/are used. We can look for some information in artistic depictions of ruins throughout the ages.

Painting of ruins sometimes depict specific historical or biblical scenes, and are often not "snapshots" but rather imagined scenes. Nonetheless, the depiction of ruins in art can tell us a lot about how ruins were used historically and give us an indication of how the West thinks about ruins. Below are some examples of ruins in painting, along with comments about what we can learn from each.

Marco Ricci (1700s) Figures among Ruins
This picture captures an scene from everyday life. Women at the center launder clothing. A woman stands behind a table to the left, making it seem that this is a business and not just private women. Ruins were often open spaces in a city, and could be used for a variety of activities that required open areas.

Paul Brill (1580) Landscape with Roman Ruins
Ruins stand on both sides of a road. Rather than form a crucial part of the activity taking place, they seem more incidental. They sit on the edge of a built-up modern city, perhaps as a reminder. The road to the left seems to actually go straight through the ruin. In the lower left corner, we see a beggar. He sits both on the road and outside the ruin, reminding us that ruins could be inhabited by people on the fringe of society.

Alessandro Magnasco (1710) Banditti at Rest
Here too we see outsiders, the Banditti, taking up residence in ruins and using it as a resting place beyond the rules of society. Equipment is tied to the columns. A man plays guitar at the center.

Giovanni Pannini (1744) Apostle Paul Preaching on the Ruins
This work shows an event in the life of St. Paul, but demonstrates that a ruin was also a place for gatherings. Paul, it should be remembered, could be seen as a subversive element, so this may be another reason why he would preach in ruins.

Salvator Rose (1660-5) Anchorites Tempted by Demons
Ruins were commonly used for monks to take up residence. This was fitting both because the ruins were secluded places, ripe for contemplation, and thought to be inhabited by demons. The monks were often called upon to fight the demons and prove that Christianity was superior to the demons. This was more common in isolated ruins at a distance from cities.

Claude Lorrain - The Campo Viccino, Rome
Rome was teeming with ruins. Here we see ruins amidst an open piazza being used as a recreation ground within the city. People gather, sit around, dogs run freely, and people ride horses.

Jacob Ruisdael (1657) The Jewish Cemetery
Ruins have a strong connection to death, and were often used artistically as a momento mori. Here we see ruins as the backdrop of a cemetery.

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