In the Art of Accuracy
There is a necessary degree of accuracy when it comes to depicting architecture. For one to recognize the Rialto Bridge, an artist must depict the most prominent details of the bridge else the famed landmark will cease to be recognizable. One must show the ornate crescent opening, twin stairs on either side, marble spindles lining the railings, and stone arch. The depiction must be accurate – or at least accurate enough. Because architecture is one of the most defining sites of a city and so the most recognizable, if something is out of place, the viewer will know. If a famed detail is off or missing, the piece of work depicting the architecture becomes messy, inaccurate. It becomes a poor rendition, an unrecognizable “what is that?” of a building. The artist loses his credit.
Yet is accuracy, in fact, realism? A city depiction strives not only to capture the architecture well, but also the people living within it. Moreover, a city depiction strives to capture how the people see their city. In this, each artist has one’s own style.
Here in the “Shadows of Venice (Il Ponte Di Rialto, Venezia)” by John Taylor Arms, the famed Rialto Bridge is framed within the arch of another building. Perhaps an architect viewing the bridge on his way to the Sunday market? The depiction is incredibly detailed. An architecture, Arms, was highly concerned with the accuracy of architecture. The perspective is aligned perfectly so as to best demonstrate the elegance of the Venetian bridge. Unlike other prints and followers of James Whistler, Arms printed his work such that his art was the actual orientation of the architecture rather than a mirror image as other printers so did. As such, he would etch the image backwards on the copper plate so that the final image would be printed in the correct manner.
Arms’ work is highly detailed – meticulous, almost as if his work were not prints but photographs. Here it is through the viewer that the architecture is best seen. The architecture is the focus of the work.
On the other hand, Ernest David Roth’s work focuses architecture seen by Venetians. Interestingly his “Near the Rialto” does not at all best depict the Rialto Bridge. In fact, one can hardly see the bridge. One of the stairs blocks the view of the artist; the opening of the bridge barely peeks over the railing. In direct contrast to Arms, Roth’s lines are strikingly loose. Whereas Arms’ work was detailed, fine, and delicate so as to depict the strength and beauty of Venice, Roth seems to emphasize that worn and weathered city, one which has been lived in for the past hundreds of years. His work is not less accurate but simply less concerned with strict accuracy. Moreover, his work does not depict architecture for the sake of architecture, but simply building seen in the perspective of a mere passerby Venetian.
Which artist’s work is more “real” then? If accuracy does demonstrate realism, what does? In this, for John Taylor Arms realism is accuracy of architecture. For Ernest David Roth, it is accuracy in the perspective of the view of a Venetian.
Holly Huey – St. John’s College student
John Taylor Arms, The Shadows of Venice (Il Ponte Di Rialto, Venezia), 1930
Ernest David Roth, Near the Rialto, 1906