Artistic expression has taken on many different forms over the past several centuries. From paintings to architecture to sculptures, artists express themselves in different forms but share many common themes. One theme that has been critical throughout the history of art is poverty and wealth, as relevant works of art have conveyed this theme in very different forms throughout history. It is evident that these considerations play a role in shaping art and its impact on society. Poverty and wealth are perceived in different ways through artistic expression; furthermore, the works of art that will be addressed in the following paragraphs support this them in diverse ways. These artistic approaches span many centuries and demonstrate the impact of wealth and poverty on life in different societies and cultures throughout the world. This discussion will support the belief that art is a primary method of expressing poverty and wealth and serves as symbol of recognition of the plight and triumph of individuals throughout history and throughout the world.
As the world and its people evolved, artistic creativity emerged as a popular form of personal expression, strength, and perception of the world and of individual surroundings. Artists come from many different backgrounds and sought to convey their views of the world through their imagination and inspiration. For example, 5.16, the Exterior of the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed in Moscow (Lazzari) is one of the most revered structures in the world and represents that which is polished and dazzling, yet complex to the naked eye. This structure encapsulates many of the intricacies of Russia and its checkered past, as well as its complex present and future. This structure is unique for its architectural design, shape, and use of color and continues to be a symbol of Russian history and gluttony. This palatial structure embodies wealth and prosperity, in spite of much of the tragedy and poverty that Russia has witnessed throughout its history and transformation.
In a similar context, another symbol of wealth and abundance is characterized in 5.16, Giorio Vasari’s Studiolo of Francesco I de’ Medici, located in Florence, Italy and created in the late 1500s (Lazzari). This architectural wonder exemplifies palatial, extravagant, and regal in their purest forms and demonstrates the wealth and power of Italy during this era. This structure, which includes complex vaulted ceilings with multiple themes, demonstrates the vast creativity of the artist and the ability of this work to emphasize the wealth and excess that many Italians craved during this century. At the same time, this structure embodies scientific and religious principles within its walls, as the vaulted ceiling and walls depict symbols of science and religion in their purest form.
Another famous architectural creation is 8.21, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, designed by Michelangelo (Lazzari). This structure possesses a strong religious presence as the home of the Pope in Vatican City, as well as one of the most famous religious historical events, the last judgment of Christ (Lazzari). This work is technically astute and demonstrates a level of detail that has yet to be duplicated. However, it also represents a unique contrast juxtaposition within the Catholic religion, as the faith teaches simplicity and charity for the poor, but the Sistine Chapel and its ceiling depict a life of complexity, gluttony, and luxury. These two points of view are in stark contrast and continue to be reflected in 21st Century Catholicism and artistic expression within the church and beyond.
In the 1600s, 6.14, created by Jan Davidsz and known as De Heem, A Table of Desserts, also represents the wealthy and their ability to eat like kings and queens, with excess food and drink above and beyond the imagination (Lazzari). This oil painting also conveys the stark contrast between the rich and the poor, as the rich could eat to their heart’s content at any time, while the poor struggled to survive and barely had any food to eat. This contrast is significant and is well represented in this painting as a form of gluttony and excess that the poor and impoverished could only dream of within their own lives.
Perhaps one of the most famous paintings in history is 6.19, The Last Supper, created by Leonardo Da Vinci (Lazzari). This painting depicts the last supper of Jesus Christ in the company of his apostles, as well as the concept of breaking bread in the company of others. The painting is significant for many reasons, including its depiction of fellowship and love while sharing a meal. The symbolic nature of this painting also supports a greater understanding of food and drink as more than nutrition and sustenance, but also a means of gaining wealth in the form of friendship, love, and solidarity in the face of adversity.
Another example of wealth and affluence is 10.13, the Imperial Throne Room of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing, China (Lazzari). This regal structure represents gold and the wealth of the Chinese during this era with reverence and respect. This palace was constructed of the finest materials that were available and was constructed by the most talented artists and provided a glimpse into the wealth and power of the Chinese during this era. This form of art also serves as a symbol of the fortune and excess that the wealthiest Chinese were able to acquire and exhibit to the world.
Painting 11.26, which depicts the Breakfast Scene in Marriage a la Mode, was designed to portray a satirical view of wealth in England during the 18th Century (Lazzari). This painting conveys the excess that many English conveyed through their own perceptions of marriage, many of which were arranged and were loveless, only created for convenience and for appearances (Lazzari). The artist sought to convey the distorted perceptions of reality of the English people during this era and also demonstrates the lack of practicality and sound judgment of the people of great wealth who lived in this century (Lazzari).
Painting 13.24 by Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, is a unique portrayal of the differences within society and how they are conveyed through artistic interpretation (Lazzari). The artist combined a number of ideas into a single painting in order to capture the essence of wealth and those that look in from the outside (Lazzari). This painting also represents religious and mythological undertones in a manner which captures the essence of society during this era and the direct contrast between the rich and the poor (Lazzari).
Sculpture is also represented in unique ways throughout history and depicts the importance of poverty and wealth. For example, 8.4, Zeus or Poseidon, represents a larger than life figure that demonstrates power, purity, and strength in their most unique forms (Lazzari). This statue, made out of bronze, emphasizes the sheer strength, courage, and size of the Greek Gods and the mythical interpretations that have existed for thousands of years (Lazzari). It appears that this sculpture is an important contributor to the wealth of the Greeks and their ability to appear larger than life not only in stature, but also in power.
Another sculpture that embodies the chosen theme is 8.10, The Water and Moon, Guanyin Bodhisattva, as this wooden sculpture depicts a sitting position that is symbolic of peacefulness and paradise in its purest form (Lazzari). It is believed that this sculpture embodies the strength and courage of an individual in an almost zen-like state, whereby there is no recognition of sadness or tragedy, only peace and tranquility (Lazzari). This sculpture recognizes simplicity and its importance from an artistic point of view in order to capture the essence of individual strength.
Finally, a modernized collage is perhaps one of the earliest depictions of pop art and is known as 12.21, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, created by English artist Richard Hamilton (Lazzari). This collage depicts themes that were controversial during the 1950s, yet support the development of the increasingly modern lifestyle, using symbols of modernity within the collage (Lazzari). This collage portrays the key elements of prosperity that continued to expand during this decade and the issues that were relevant throughout society in an era of transition and discovery.
The works of art that have been described in this discussion convey the theme of poverty and wealth in very different ways. Throughout history, works of art in different forms have been largely influential and instrumental in expressing a variety of themes, with poverty and wealth as no exception. The collection under consideration is derived from different time periods, nations, and cultures, yet conveys the importance of different perspectives of poverty and wealth as experienced by the artists themselves. Some of these works of art express wealth, excess, and prosperity, with some satirizing these concepts for the same reasons. However, the primary undertones that run throughout this collection include the lack of understanding of poverty and its impact on the population and the extreme disconnect that has existed between the rich and the poor for many centuries.
Lazzari. Art Appreciation: An Intro to Visual Culture (Custom Bundle). ISBN 10:1-1336-3987-9, ISBN 13:978-1-1336-3987-9