John Mcewen com­ments on The Hunt in the For­est

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting Lord Dalmeny -

More than half a cen­tury af­ter Uc­cello’s death, Vasari wrote: ‘Artists who de­vote more at­ten­tion to per­spec­tive than to fig­ures de­velop a dry and an­gu­lar style… and, more­over, they usu­ally end up soli­tary, ec­cen­tric, melan­choly, and poor, as in­deed did Paolo Uc­cello him­self.’ This mas­ter­piece, his last-known and best-pre­served paint­ing, de­nies the crit­i­cism.

The as­ser­tion that his con­cen­tra­tion on per­spec­tive drove him to a pau­per’s grave is also dis­proved by the facts. He left his wife—they mar­ried when he was 55 and she 19—and their two chil­dren com­fort­ably off: there was a coun­try house with an es­tate and her mar­riage dowry of 200 gold florins re­mained in­tact.

The Hunt in the For­est is painted on wood in tem­pera, a pig­ment-bind­ing emul­sion usu­ally made with eggs, but some­times in­clud­ing dan­de­lion juice or fig-tree sap. The pic­ture would not have been hung, but prob­a­bly dec­o­rated the front of a chest or was an in­sert in wall pan­elling. Age has made the oak for­est even darker, greens have turned brown and the reds be­come more em­phatic. None of this di­min­ishes the po­etic charm of the noc­tur­nal scene, the sickle of the faintly vis­i­ble moon re­peated in the buck­les of the har­ness­ing.

Uc­cello was, in­deed, an early master of per­spec­tive, the geo­met­ric cre­ation of a van­ish­ing point to­wards which ev­ery­thing in a com­po­si­tion con­verges to cre­ate an il­lu­sion of dis­tance. Here, even the ex­tended zip of the canal-like river is in­di­vis­i­ble from the gath­er­ing ex­cite­ment of the chase. Fore­ground logs es­tab­lish the di­rec­tional lines that form the per­spec­tive pyra­mid, the apex or van­ish­ing point of which is the far­thest deer.

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