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Technique in Harlequin and Portrait of aYoung Man

In the works Harlequin by Pablo Picasso and Portrait of a Man by Bronzino, the artists use a number of artistic techniques such as line, color, composition, content and size to universally illuminate their central characters. Though the works are decidedly different in appearance and appeal, the artists’ manipulation of the medium provides universal insight into their intended meanings. Harlequin was painted by Pablo Picasso in 1915. The painting is oil on canvas and is approximately three feet by six feet in size. It is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art.

Portrait of a Young Man was painted by Bronzino in the 1530s. It was created with oil paints on wood is about three feet by four feet in size. It is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The paintings are strikingly different in appearance, but their impact as portraiture is quite similar in artistic use and their actual size relativity. Line is utilized in very different ways by the two artists. In Bronzino’s work, line is used to separate the central figure from his surroundings. The background of the work is composed strictly of straight horizontal and vertical lines.

In its rigidity it feels confining. The subject in contrast is composed of fluid soft lines. This use serves to separate his subject from the background in physical space through the difference in form, but more importantly it gives the young man a natural element that crosses over into an emotional softness of character. Bronzino also uses the soft fluid lines of the subject’s arms as leading lines to the face which is the central focus of the portrait. In contrast, Picasso’s use of line in Harlequin is strikingly different.

Picasso uses the same geometrical shapes and straight lines in both the foreground and background of the work. If one were to extract the color from the painting it would be exceptionally difficult to discern the focal point of the piece. Picasso does use line in an interesting way to highlight the subjects face. Where all the other lines are straight and angular the harlequins head is round, distinguishing it as the ultimate focus. The other rounded lines found in the painting when followed form an S-curve acting as a leading line to the face as well.

Where Bronzino uses line to differentiate the subject and introduce you to the young man’s demeanor, Picasso uses line to bring you to the central focus of the work only. To compensate for the consistency in line form, Picasso utilizes color to elaborate on the character of the harlequin and the implication of the portrait. The background of the painting is done is solid black, all vibrancy is found in the portrait of the harlequin. Without the patterned color of the red and green diamonds we would have no way of knowing that the portrait was of a harlequin at all.

That patterning is traditional costume for harlequin clowns and is the main identifier of the subject. The color only being found on the subject is significant to the subject’s nature because in addition to being physically colorful, harlequins are socially colorful as well, their sole purpose being to liven up their surroundings. In Portrait of a Young Man, Bronzio also uses color to further define his central figure from a social and emotional standpoint. The young man is adorned in rich dark clothes that starkly contrast the drab and washed out surroundings.

The colors chosen for his attire are made to look velvety and make the man seem fairly well to do, whether he is or not. The most important use of color by both artists is in the face of their subjects. Bronzino illuminates his subjects face with light, so you can honestly see his expression. Whether or not the subject’s representation of himself is genuine, in the portrait it still highlights the reality of his character and how he wants to be seen. Picasso uses color on the harlequin’s face in the same manner, only its meaning is quite different.

The harlequin’s face is dark, not illuminated and the same color as the background. This artistic choice is significant because it represents how the harlequin is not ‘real’, that he is just playing a part. His face being a reflection of his true self is darkened to demonstrate that the portrait is not of the actual man, but the part that he plays. Both artists use line and color to delineate their subject and express intention, but the overall composition and content is also utilized towards this purpose in a similar way.

Though Harlequin is very flat and lacking in dimension, Picasso creates separation of his subject by using multiple shape and color layers. He emphasizes the importance of the central figure by having it in the immediate foreground filling the majority of the frame. The harlequin’s outfit is the focus of the piece in distinguishing him by occupation and fills most of the canvas. In Harlequin there is only one element in front of the subject and that is a white rectangular block to the lower right corner.

It appears as if it is something the harlequin is holding and serves to add meaning as well as additional depth. The white block appears to have a profile of a man within it in brown and could serve as a key to the harlequin’s real identity. The viewer gets the impression he is holding his true self in his hand. The composition of the piece makes the viewer feel somewhat trapped by the costume. Though you are drawn to the face of the harlequin the costume competes with trying to look into the face of the harlequin to understand more.

In this way Picasso emphasizes that the harlequin is masked behind his service and adds more meaning to the profile silhouette he carries in his hand. Bronzino also uses composition to convey a message in his Portrait of a Young Man. Bronzino’s central figure also fills the canvas and is highly detailed compared to the background and other elements in the painting. He has positioned the man in a stance that evokes confidence, not uniform, but rather off balance with one hand on his hip. His figure has turned his head to look directly at the viewer and it feels as if he is forcing you to look further into his expression.

The subjects expression is the focus of the piece and rather than compete like in Harlequin all elements work together to draw the viewer to that purpose. In conjunction with the use of composition, size plays a key roll in the works as well. Both artists chose to use real life dimensions. Though Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man is smaller, it is proportionally correct in its sizing. He chose to show only the top two-thirds of the subject and for this it is true to size. In Picasso’s work the harlequin is also life size.

These are important elements because they allow the viewer to look upon them as equals, someone standing right in front of them. Working on a parallel level it is easier to contribute ones own understanding of emotions into the meaning of the work. The main discrepancy in size is in the head of each of the central figures. In Bronzino’s work, the young man’s head is true to real size and proportional to the rest of his body. However, in Picasso’s work the harlequin’s head is significantly smaller than his body. This contributes to the idea of the harlequin’s identity being masked or minimalized by his profession.

It is also interesting that the profile of the man on the block he is holding is what would be actual size. As a representation of the harlequin’s real self it stands to follow that this element would be in the correct proportion. Artists’ utilization of artistic technique helps them convey a message in their work. Particularly in portraiture, where taken at face value it just seems to be another picture of a man or woman, studying the specific elements and how they are utilized reveals the meaning behind the portrait and gives a more in depth look at the central figure.

Though portraiture in painting began as more of a form of record-keeping for the higher class, it is still important to look at the choices made by the artist. Bronzino’s painting is clearly an example of the record-keeping style, but you learn a lot about the young man by analyzing Bronzino’s technique. What he chose to include and how he has his subject positioned reveals information about who the subject is and how he wants to be revered. Picasso’s portrait is very different in that it lacks the same sense of realism, but he reveals the same form of contextual information by manipulation artistic elements.

Picasso uses size and color in an unreal way to diminish or enhance importance of profession and identity. No matter what the techniques are, in simply recognizing their purpose in relaying a message in art, the viewer can enhance their artistic experience. Adding in the element of artistic choice will inevitably increase the understanding of works viewed. Works Cited Bronzino. (1530s). Portrait of a Young Man. Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York. (2009). Picasso, P. (1915). Harlequin. Oil on Canvas. Museum of Modern Art: New York. (2009).

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