The fall issue of Drawing brings to our attention an overlooked artist from the Baroque era: Giovanni Battista Bracelli. Bracelli’s greatest achievement was a series of etchings called “Bizzarie di Varie Figure,” in which figures are inventively constructed out of geometrical forms, objects, and materials.
In the article, John A. Parks tells the story of Bracelli’s career (or what little is known of it) and breaks down the strategies he uses in these etchings. The Bizzarie suite contains more drawings than we were able to fit in the magazine article, so here we’re happy to present an extended selection of plates from this series, accompanied by an excerpt from John’s article. To read the entire piece, get your copy of fall 2014 Drawing, or subscribe to the magazine here.
Learning From Giovanni Battista Bracelli
by John A. Parks, excerpted from “Bizarre Geometry: The Etchings of Giovanni Battista Bracelli”
Bracelli’s unique prints are not only amusing but also tremendously informative for artists working with the human figure. The following four observations are just a few of the lessons we can learn from his work.
1) Making Equivalent Forms: Many of the figures in the Bizzarie are constructed with alternative forms: boxes, rings, helixes, et cetera. Making figures in this way can help you to think about and conceptualize the various volumes throughout the body without undergoing the onerous task of rendering the surface.
2) The Importance of Gesture: All of the figures in Bizzarie display clearly readable gestures. These are sometimes exaggerated and occasionally outlandish but always eminently recognizable. The idea that a great deal of our social information is transmitted through gesture is central to much figure work and was particularly important in the 17th century, when classical artists such as Poussin sought to illustrate events in myth and history. All too often art students spend countless hours learning to render form and construct accurate proportion without paying enough attention to how the figure might read in a narrative context.
3) The Power of the Imagination: Bracelli’s figures are unforgettable because they make surprising and imaginative connections. A figure is built out of unexpected components. A ring becomes a foot, a box frame becomes a head. The artist was unafraid to let his imagination roam even when it sometimes left the tracks. Trying something new and getting into unknown territory is always risky. Bracelli went ahead.
4) Humor and Whimsy: Humor is difficult to carry off in large-scale works of painting or sculpture because jokes tend to wear thin quickly. But in small-scale graphic works, such as the Bizzarie etchings, a sense of whimsy and delight allows for a gentle humor. The viewer is borne along by the joy of invention that the artist displays.