JF Ptak Science Books Post 1122
I’ve long been interested in the added, extra stuff found in the foregrounds and empty places of artwork, the eclectic extraiana, the not-necessary pieces, the microworlds of antiquarian visual anthropology. (See here for example, an earlier post in this blog, "Hidden Children, Found Art and Social Vignettes Inside Art".) In towns views and architectural studies, where the primary interest is geography and, well, architecture, people are sometimes added to literally flesh out the bank spots, and to add a point of reference and perspective for the viewer. In many circumstances these added bits turn out to be extremely interesting insights into everyday street life for the period of the artwork, also including societal exuda and discarded people, the social “rejects”, the underclass, the classless, the workers, the laborers, people. That would be most fo the population of a place.
For example in this application of the imaginary forensic arts microscope, we see this series of pictures of a standard view of the town hall of Antwerp; but what we see advancing under magnification is a very interesting set of occupations displayed in absolutely minute detail (seen in more detail in this earlier post, from which I quote below).
First, the majority of the engraved image, followed by a close-up of the center of the building (the three doorways), and then by a closer view still of doorway three:
The truly interesting bit here is barely observable in the original; but, under magnification, we see a very rich and minuscule "engraved photograph" of a slice of daily commerce and street life in Antwerp. If you look at the central entrance to the town hall you can see three main (and large) doorways, and if you look closer still, you'll see something leaning against the portal at right.
Extraordinarily, what the artist snuck into the original is a tiny (2mm) figure watching over several tables of her (fruits?/vegetables?) ware, waiting for a customer. There doesn't seem to be much interest in her stuff, currently, and she has allowed herself a little relaxation, leaning against the doorway. I've found this sort of extremely minor subject matter and its ephemeral connection to the larger work at hand to be just fascinating. I wonder why such detail would be added--why would the artist, or engraver, take such care and interest in such minor visions. Perhaps this is just what was at hand on the days the artist fleshed out his work; perhaps it was the work of the engraver, alone, incising yet another semi-boring architectural image; desperate for a little artistic activity, adding some interesting, almost-invisible touches, here and there. Perhaps no one would ever really notice them, but whoever was responsible for adding such incredible, extra-dimensional details would certainly enjoy knowing they were there, recognized or not.
Here's another example (seen in an earlier post here) from Giuseppe Zocchi (1711-1767) who was commissioned by he Marchise Andre Gerini at mid century to record the greatest of Florentine landmarks. The plaza scene offers a great view for all sorts of people, and the artist/engraver take great advantage of the possibilities:
Among the many people populating the image we find folks interested in a dogfight:
Another image by Zocchi, Veduta della Piazza della SS Nunziata Statua Equeftre di Ferdinando Primo, Fonti, e Loggie Lateral, shows more good work with the possibilities of ephemeral populations, where among the many details we see an invalid being pulled in a small cart, and a half-obscured man with a staff leaning against the back of the monument. And of course there's much more--you just need a little magnification to see the human element of the artwork.
There was a class of illustrator that drew on their surroundings, or what they saw on their walks, or from their window--the incidental people in their artwork were people that they saw, who meant something or other to them, who formed an impression in their brains. There were other artists who were perhaps not quite so fortunate in their daily lives to come into contact with a variety of people like this--perhaps they were sheltered, perhaps they were privileged and of a class that would not put them into contact with ordinary people.
Perhaps it was this class of artist who need William Pyne's great-ish 1845 work, Picturesque groups for the embellishment of landscape...1 It was a work of clip art for its day, really, showing, detailing, the attitudes and occupations of working people. It was a book filled with the people who might ordinarily have gone missing from the work of the artists needing their images displayed in their brains by someone else's labor; a book filled with figures to plug-up the blank spaces, round out that unkind bits that called out for a human touch.
Interestingly, it shows people at their professions but more often than not , it doesn't actually show people working--its more like people readying themselves for work, getting materials ready, sharpening things, ordering. It is impressive nonetheless for its found, pre-photography snapshots of working life in England in the 1830's. It shows potters, leather dressers, gravel diggers, itinerant mowers, hay-makers, gleaners, paviers, shepherds, fishermen, knife grinders, quarrymen, foresters, woodmen, basket-makers, coopers, horse rollers, cider-makers; and images of boats, barrels, gypsies, games, county fairs, and on and on. For example, here's the multi-image engraving for "itinerant mowers":
Perhaps it was only a practice-book of images for people who wanted to practice--if so, it wasn't a book for just anyone, as (so far as I can determine) it would've cost a working person week's worth of labor to purchase it. And there are certainly pictures of people doing unusual and rare things even for 1843--like sailors washing sails, maybe--actions that were not commonly seen. And it also placed people in attitudes of unusual poses, so some people may have looked at the book with an eye for artistic anatomy. But by and large, to me, it looks like a missing persons book.
1. William Henry Pane (1769-1843), Picturesque groups for the embellishment of landscape : in a series of above one thousand subjects : comprising the most interesting accessories to rural and domestic scenery, shipping and craft, rural sports, pastimes and occupations, naval, military and civil employments, implements of trade, commerce and agriculture, etc. , the whole forming an encyclopaedia of illustration of the arts, agriculture, manufactures, &c. of Great Britain Publisher: London (Bedford Street, Covent Garden) : M.A. Nattali, 1845.