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Open University and Bathing Nymphs Essay Sample

Open University and Bathing Nymphs Pages
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Part 1 Cleopatra

Carefully read the following extract several times. What does this passage suggest about the relationship between Cleopatra and Anthony? Compare this with how the relationship is portrayed in the other written source material from the classical period in Book 1, Chapter 1.

It is not stated whether Cleopatra’s flatterers were under her instruction to persuade Anthony or not, but if they were then she was clearly manipulating his decisions through a third party influence. Cleopatra may have loved Anthony, but she also needed him around for political gain. The flatterers’ insult of Anthony as ‘an insensitive brute with a heart of stone’ would have played to his masculinity whilst also condemning it and implored him to soften in the face of Cleopatra’s femininity. The statement that Anthony’s current wife was only with him for personal and political gain, while Cleopatra was powerful herself and only wanted to be with him. These contrasts would have worked to convince him of a loving and perfect Cleopatra, and imply their relationship was more important than politics. The objective being to create an image of Cleopatra that Anthony would be unable to resist, and an image of himself that barely deserved her.

It is portrayed that Cleopatra had control of the relationship which had a negative effect on Anthony’s career, as Cleopatra used him to improve hers. Although Anthony would have had an idea of Cleopatra’s likeliness to do what she wanted and take control, he was infatuated with her. Even without the influence of the flatterers, would not have wanted to lose her; so when they said that ‘if he drove her away it would be the death of her’ he would have felt he had no choice but to stay. This passage does hint at love and romance between the two, but it also indicates much reluctance and sacrifice; so the relationship between Anthony and Cleopatra appears codependent and suffocating. The flatterers here ‘melted down and unmanned him’, which is an idea consistent throughout Roman source material – that Anthony was weakened and emasculated by Cleopatra. Especially in the Roman propaganda against the couple, where it is said it was impossible for him to ‘conceive a manly thought or do a manly deed’ (Scott-Kilvert, 1987 in Fear, 2008, p.27).

Plutarch’s description of the first time they met (Fear, 2008, p. 10) shows the extravagance Cleopatra used to shift the power dynamic from Anthony to herself, and how much she liked to be in control. It is also clear that she was skilled in gaining that control; it would have been effortless for her in the situation of persuading Anthony to stay by her side. Another common idea is that Anthony was under some sort of spell, ‘he is bewitched by that accursed woman, and therefore disregards our efforts’ (Scott-Kilvert, 1987 in Fear, 2008, p.27), this may compare with the influence she had in the relationship, and the image of herself which her flatterers used to ‘bewitch’ Anthony. Plutarch describes the uncontrollable influence she has on Anthony, his passions ‘excited to the point of madness’ (Scott-Kilvert, 1965, in Fear, 2008, p.9), and leaves no doubt that this is has an extremely negative effect on Anthony. Including having him make very bad political choices because of the influence of Cleopatra, or ‘dangers which he has accepted for her sake,’ (Scott-Kilvert, 1987 in Fear, 2008, p.27).

Fear, T. (2008) ‘Cleopatra’, in Moohan, E. (ed.) Reputations (AA100 Book 1), Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 1-29

Plutarch, Life of Anthony 53; reprinted in AA100 Assignment Booklet (October 2008), Milton Keynes, The Open University, p. 18

Part 2 Cézanne

Look carefully at Plate 1.3.5, Paul Cézanne, Bathers (c.1894-1906), and Plate 1.3.6, Palma Vecchio, Bathing Nymphs (c.1525/8), in the Illustration Book. Discuss what you think are the most significant differences between the two paintings.

The most obvious difference between the two paintings is the depth of picture space. Vecchio has created a great sense of distance in Bathing Nymphs using aerial perspective and scaling the figures, the light comes from the distant left modelling the scene with a sense of natural daylight. In Cézanne’s Bathers however there is no real sense of depth past the area where the figures are sitting. There is no detail to the background and the light appears to be coming from outside the painting shining straight on, which flattens the image adding to the already shallow background. This reflects an apparent difference in intent of the painters. Vecchio draws the viewer into a vast world of beauty, where every section of the painting has equal aesthetic importance, whereas Cézanne focus is on the group of figures. The Bathers are sitting near the picture plane which is separated from the background with the lines of tree trunks in the top corners, and whilst the viewer is not drawn into the depth of picture space, it does instead make you feel as if you occupy the same space as the figures. Bathing Nymphs is perhaps more aesthetically pleasing with linear brush strokes and realistic forms, but whilst the painting is beautiful to look at and extremely good technically, there isn’t much emotion with which the viewer can connect to the painting.

It’s basis in classical style and traditional feelings and expression means the individual figures are detached with no sense of relationship between them. This traditional style is what Cézanne would deliberately diverge from, and in consequence his paintings are ‘stimulating to a fresh emotional response rather than reassuring sentimentality’ (Harrison, 2008, p. 68). Again his focus is on the group of people not the beauty of a scene. The figures in Bathers are far less realistic, with very basic forms and expressionless faces, however this absence of sentimentality that Cézanne is known for is exactly what gives real feeling to his paintings. The lack of focus on the individual form, which so contrasts with Vecchio’s Bathing Nymphs, creates a feeling of connection and relation between the figures and therefore opens an opportunity for connection with the viewer.

Both artists portray a scene and an atmosphere, but the difference in how they utilise colour and technique highlights the difference in mood of the paintings. Cézanne use of colour emphasises the connection between the figures, the cold blues of the background set a detached backdrop to the interactions of the group which are illuminated with the warm and complimentary orange hues beneath them. The narrow and relaxing range of tone combined with painterly brush strokes give the viewer a sense of feeling rather, than detail of the scene, which is common for Cézanne painting. Bathing Nymphs has a wide tonal range which enhances the clearly defined lines and shapes with the contrast between the mostly white and black hues, this use of colour is striking and impressive, which increases the sense that this painting is meant to be admired for the artist’s technical ability and classical style.

The Open University (2008), AA100 Illustration Book (Plates for Books 1 and 2), Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Harrison, C. (2008) ‘Cézanne’, in Moohan, E. (ed.) Reputations (AA100 Book 1), Milton Keynes, The Open University, p. 55-85.

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