Under Baroque Skies: finding inspiration in the clouds

In making studies of clouds I am constantly surprised and awed by what I see.  Nature truly is the most influential of all the artists, full of shocking and inspiring colors and compositions. I have learned so much about color just watching the sky change over the course of an hour.

As a muralist I often look at the work of the master artists who came before me,  for technical advice as well as inspiration. Some are known for their wonderful figurative murals or portraits, others for brilliant trompe l’oeil. To whom do you look for the best clouds?
Giambattisa Tiepolo: oil sketch for Perseus and Andromeda (1730) The Frick Collection, New York
Artists like Andrea Pozzo and Daniel Gran both are so famous for their illusionistic painting, that maybe they don’t get enough credit for composing really beautiful clouds:  clouds that break out of the “sky” and jump into the room;  clouds that are carrying groups of figures and yet still managing to fly up, create depth, and add color to dramatically designed scenes.  To my mind no one paints cloudscapes better than  Giambattista Tiepolo.  The virtuosic star of 18th century Venetian art, he painted larger-than-life goddesses and substantial allegorical figures seated in clouds that look as comfortable as down-filled cushions and light as a single feather. Tiepolo's murals are filled with light, and the most beautiful color palettes imaginable.
Join me here on a tour of some of my favorite clouds murals.

Andrea Mantegna “Camera degli Sposi” fresco 1465-1474 (ceiling detail) Palazzo Ducale, Mantua. image: Wikipedia
The center of the ceiling in the spectacularly painted Camera degli Sposi is one of the earliest examples of  the di sotto in sù effect. While the cloudscape in this ceiling is extremely simple, it’s effective because the scale of the clouds is consistent with what one could possibly view through an oculus of this size.

Ceiling of the Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza 1585 (detail). image: Lynne Rutter
The oldest surviving fully enclosed theater in the world, the Teatro Olimpico has the feeling of an open amphitheater in ancient Rome, thanks to this spectacular painted cloud mural over the cavea (seating area).  This theater was designed by the great Renaissance architect Palladio and seeing it was one of the top ten experiences of my artistic  life.  When I took this picture I could barely operate the camera as my eyes were filled with tears.

Andrea Pozzo “Apotheosis of Sant’Ignazio” fresco 1688-90 (detail), Sant' Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio, Rome. image: Lynne Rutter
The surrounding quadratura and the famous anamorphic dome get a lot more attention,  but the action of Andrea Pozzo's famous ceiling mural takes place in its center- St. Ignatius of Loyola carried up to heaven by clouds that have reached into the church to scoop him up, assisted by angels. The clouds are composed as strategically as the rest of the painting.  Tip:  take a mirror to this church with you.   Have a seat, look down into the mirror  at the reflection of the ceiling. You will see a lot of different things this way (as well as spare your neck!)

Daniel Gran "Allegory of War and Law" fresco 1730 Prunksaal, Vienna. image: Wikipedia
More about the overall decoration than about reality, the colors of Daniel Gran‘s clouds play right into the décor of the rest of the interior, taking the room into its composition and the viewer along with it.  The Prunksaal (Austrian National Library) in Vienna is one of those amazing over-the-top Baroque libraries.

Kremserschmidt, chapel ceiling in Gruber Palace, oil on canvas 1780 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Martin Johann Schmidt‘s colorful cloudscape whirls around the figures and spirals upward, enhancing the foreshortening of the figures and creating a soaring effect. I love how the angel is holding up the lantern,  drawing  the room into the mural, and visa-versa!

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo “Apollo and Diana” fresco 1757 (detail) Villa Valmarana, Vicenza. image: Wikipedia
How do you support larger than life figures and still manage to make the clouds airy and filled with light? Watch and learn as Tiepolo does this with ease.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo "The Triumph of Virtue and Nobility Over Ignorance" 1740 Oil on canvas, painted for the Palazzo Manin, Venice. image: Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA
Multiple levels of clouds and strong contrast in Tiepolo’s Manin ceiling mural create depth and support the action in this allegorical tale in which sorority sisters Virtue and Nobility send out their posse of cherubs to put Ignorance in her place once and for all. Behind the hair-pulling drama, a bright yellow cloud  juxtaposed over a deep purple one:  ka-pow!

Dome ceiling fresco, 1749 Schloss Charlottenburg , Berlin. image: Lynne Rutter
This simple cloud mural  creates a sense of elegant calm as you ascend the ornate white plaster staircase of the beautiful Rococo wing of the Charlottenburg Palace.

Clouds over Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra range of California, one hour before sunset. image: Lynne Rutter
Real clouds do the most amazing and beautiful things.  My best compositional references come from nature.  Flickr and google images have thousands of unbelievable pictures of amazing clouds.  Do you take cloud pictures too? If so, consider joining  the flickr pool “Painterly Clouds” and add your inspiring shots.

Lynne Rutter "Cloupscape" acrylic on plaster 18' diameter, Private Residence, CA
Nature inspired the composition of this dome cloud mural but I looked to maestro Tiepolo to inspire the painting technique, and for “permission” to make the sky purple and orange.


Visit the Gallery for more cloud ceiling murals painted by Lynne Rutter

di sotto in sù  is in the Glossary

Lynne will be teaching her cloud painting techniques in a special one-day workshop July 28, 2012 at the IDAL Convention in Reno, Nevada~~  ask for class # S203