The Craftsperson’s Art
Until quite recently, little was known about the Pictorial Arts in Valdyas. We knew, of course, that the Temple of Mizran had, mostly monochrome, statues of Mizran in silver, adorned with real clothes. The Temple of Naigha has polychromed wooden statues of Naigha, again clothed with real clothes. We know that Inn of the Three Kings in Valdis has wall paintings: three famous Kings are depicted on one wall, the other three walls are adorned with a frieze with all Kings, from the first to the present King or Queen. Finally, there are very early references to illuminated or illustrated manuscripts. There is jewelry, but it is rarely described as containing representation.
If we want to form a theory of Art in Valdyas, the early evidence would leave us with very little to base our thoughts on. However, in recent years, we have encountered more and more hints of the form and purpose of Art in Valdyas. And this form and purpose shows a development of the Visual Arts that stands in a sharp contradistinction to the development known in the early to late middle ages in the Netherlands.
Let us start with Dimani, the Iss-Peranian-born painter of flowers, first mentioned in Doctor Cora’s diaries. She made her living from painting floral pieces. This fact alone suggests many things. Since a flower still life needs many, bright, colors, we have to assume that these colors are available. Since she made her living painting these pieces, we have to assume a sufficiency of customers. It is of course admissable to suspect that, Dimani living and working in Turenay, might live from the duyin and other rich seasonal visitors who flock to Turenay in Autumn. However, as we shall see below, that supposition is not necessary to explain her making her living through painting.
We now can continue with our second, rather larger, glimpse of the life of a painter in Valdyas. We now come to Master Jeran, who taught Rhinla how to draw and paint. Astonishingly, Master Jeran was painting en plein air. Pictorial evidence suggests that plein air painting is perfectly possible without paint tubes; in his picture of Rhinla, Master Jeran clearly shows a ceramic palette with depressions for mixing each color in. My contention is that these depressions are used for mixing pigment with binder, not for mixing bound pigments (i.e. paint) together to form new colors. (However, from Rhinla’s paintings it is clear that she, either though lack of understanding of the physical properties of pigments, which cannot all be mixed together with impunity or through mastery of these properties does employ colors mixed directly before painting.)
As for the pigments we can see in this masterly painting by the sorrowing Master Jeran, there are the following colors on the palette. A very bright blue, a strong red, a grayish white and a bright yellow. Whether the green is mixed, or a pigment on its own is not certain. Note: a bright blue, a strong red and a bright yellow.
Historically, the only source of such a blue would be lapis lazuli. The red probably is lead-based, the yellow uncertain. For the green I would propose a mixture, not a pigment, since natural strong green pigments barely exist. In the painting in the grass, we can discern some more pigments: some of the blue looks a lot like smalt, which is a ground blue glass that is not light-fast, and ochres of course.
This means that Master Jeran has depicted Rhinla only with the best pigments on her palette, not just the ones used in the painting he made her paint. This deserves consideration. First, he depicts his pupil, not even his apprentice, in a painting made to cherish her memory, true, using the best pigments. Does this mean he would have let his admittedly brilliant, but very, very young pupil use those pigments? If that were true, they would have to have been very affordable: we know he was not rich.
Before coming back to this point of the availability of strong pigments, which we also touched on in the case of Dimani, the flower painter, let us first continue our survey of known painters and paintings.
Master Jeran had many half-finished and unfinished paintings in his house. A painter will keep works in various stages of readiness — underpainting, dead painting, working up in white, glazing (if those properly belong to the techniques used) — if he has many customers who might want something quick, off-the-shelf and still customizable. Another reason for having work in various stages of completion around is that the it might be technically impossible to continue the work without waiting between stages. This suggests painting with pigments bound with oils and resins, not just paint bound with egg or water.
As to the customers, we know that there were paintings, not frescoes or murals, in the Palace of the Viceroy of Essle. That this was a framed painting, not a mural, is certain because Khushi was able to throw her lover’s loincloth at the painting and make it disappear between the painting and the wall.
But were the duyin and foreign nobility the main audience for paintings in Valdyas? To the present author, it would seem that having at least two painters making a living of their work in one small town, Turenay, suggests a more democratic appreciation of the art than that.
And fortunately, most recently, we have received evidence that this theory is not wholly baseless. As we saw in Selday, Master Cynla, a portrait painter, earned her money creating quick portraits of passing seamen, though, admittedly, especially naval officers. Note that since she needed to create these portraits quickly, she would have to use a quick-drying technique, like egg tempera, maybe protected with a strong resin-based (dammar?) varnish. This in itself proves two things: there is a broad demand for paintings in Valdyas, and at least three techniques, oil (as shown by the practice of Master Jeran) and tempera (as shown by the evidence from Master Cynla’s practice) and fresco (as shown by the murals in the Three Kings, which must be an active, actual practice, since if the technique of fresco had been forgotten, new Kings and Queens could not be added continuously), are in active practice.
This survey lets us draw the following conclusions:
- Pictorial Art in Valdyas is not directly linked to the realm of religion
- The materials to create Pictorial Art with are plentiful and affordable
- The audience for Pictorial Art is democratic: that is, not just the Duyin, but everyone who can afford a picture wants one.
- There are many techniques an artist can avail themselves of
As an aside, we have not yet encountered evidence of official organization of painters and other artists into guilds, yet given the ubiquity of guilds in all realms of Valdyan life leave us with little doubt that such organizations exist; if there are two craftspeople in one town, they will create a Guild and will have their Feast of Mizran dinner. And we do know that the Baroness of Selday and her spouse are actively interested in making sure there is a Painter’s Guild in Selday, because they are aware that Master Cynla has colleagues — that means at least three professional painters in a town of about 2500 inhabitants.
The conclusions themselves call up questions. The first is, why is Valdyan organized religion so little involved in the Pictorial Arts? In my opinion there are several trains of thought that can be followed from this conclusion: the first is that if it is true that owning pictures is wide-spread, our informants will not find it necessary to discuss the pictorial decoration of the Temple of Mizran. The Temples of Naigha are, of course, too poor to buy paintings. The second thought is that with all attention being given to the statues, paintings are not so necessary, the more so that since paintings are common, they will do little to add to the splendour of the Temples. Everyone is used to them, while nobody has a life-sized statue in their kitchen nook. The final thought is that the popularity of paintings as decoration might be a relatively recent phenomenon, and the Temples are conservative. But note also that the more numerous survival of medieaval religious art versus the paucity of secular art might not reflect the actual creation: it is known that Jan van Eyck created at least one secular, explicitly erotic painting.
As for the second conclusion, already very early on it became apparent that the Guild of Archan and the Golden Triangle were trading in precious minerals and pigments. If they were trading in pigments, would that be export or import? My contention is: export. We know that lapis lazuli is being quarried near Nalenay. This means that the strongest, clearest, most light-fast blue pigment is readily available in Valdyas. There are lead, tin, copper, silver and gold mines. This provides for white, red and yellow pigments. And, of course, earth pigments abound in a geography that has plenty of iron: it has not been discussed, but the area around Tylenay must do a brisk business in ochres and siennas. Combine that with the extraordinary knowledge of the natural world that is spread through the educational system centered on the Temple of Naigha, where every priestess is a herbalist, and pigments are cheap.
And so are binders: Valdyas wears linen and wool, but linen for a preference. That means that linseed is plentiful. There are hazelnuts and walnuts as well, and the domestic chicken is omnipresent. Varnishes, such as dammar or mastic, those might be more of a problem. But there is extensive trade with Iss-Peran and the East; so this is not an obstacle.
The third conclusion speaks for itself: if ordinary able seamen buy a portrait to take with them and leave with their faraway loves in faraway ports, paintings are seen both as desirable and affordable.
In short, the Pictorial Arts in Valdyas are important, serve the needs of ordinary people, are ubiquitous and have access to the best materials and techniques imaginable.
Only Valdis has an artists’ Guild. There are no separate sculptors’ and painters’ guilds, though there are specialized sculptors and painters. This post is about what a painter needs to learn master. The craft of being an artist has four main parts:
Materials teaches knowing how to prepare paint from pigments with oils, egg yolk and vinegar or water; how to appraise pigments in the market or the pharmacy; how to prepare grounds (paper, parchment, panels, walls, metal grounds: canvas/linen grounds are not used yet), how to prepare glues, clays, bole and plasters and how to prepare varnishes and fixatives.
Tools teaches knowing how to create silverpoint, willow charcoal, make brushes from squirrel tail hair, other hair or feathers, scrapers and all other tools.
Technique teaches how to apply paint, when to use which tool, how to layer pigments, how to combine or not combine pigments, how to make sure your finished work will stand the times, how to make frames and decorate panels with plaster ornamentation, how to gild, burnish and varnish, how to fixate drawings on paper, how to tool leather and bind books.
Expression teaches how to compose your picture, give it dignity or life, how to combine colors to please the viewer, how to reach likeness and — expression.