An Analysis of the Claims of Robert Bagley in The First Paper Assignment Using the Example of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Bronze Relief of the Sacrifice of Isaac

Category: Art Analysis
Last Updated: 03 May 2023
Essay type: Assignment
Pages: 3 Views: 111

Robert Bagley in "The First Paper Assignment" claims that describing an artwork is impossible without making a comparison using one's previous knowledge or experiences, because through comparison a connected history of art can be formed. According to Bagley, describing art in a historical context helps the viewer to convey an understanding about the artist who made the piece. Since one cannot look at artwork as a separate entity outside of any context, and art is a part of human civilization, then the ability to make connections between them allows art historians to better understand an artwork's role in a specific culture. One can understand through artwork what a society valued monetarily and morally, and by looking for patterns in the past, perhaps one can see how a societal shift of value would occur in the present and near future.

My own first paper assignment was to describe Lorenzo Ghiberti's bronze relief of the sacrifice of Isaac. Prior to my assignment, I knew nothing of Renaissance art, Catholic artistic patronage, or the process of sculpting a bronze relief. Without this knowledge it seems I should have been able to describe the artwork outside of any context, but as Bagley claims, no artwork can be described without comparison, and that comparison can be found in other areas of knowledge. I had never studied bronze reliefs sculpted during the Renaissance, but I have read the Old Testament, especially Abraham's story, so I recognized the scene. This allowed me to make assumptions about the piece and the artist: he was a religious man with faith and believed in the importance of sacrifice, he used his skills as if they were gifted by God to portray his faith, and since it is a scene from the Old Testament there is most likely more panels with other scenes, which lead me to conclude Ghiberti was hired to sculpt this panel, perhaps more. I agree with Bagley's argument that describing art cannot live outside of context, because from my experience I began giving an artwork context without art historical knowledge before I began describing the artwork. Without prompt from a professor I began questioning the piece in an art historical context: why would a culture want to visually portray biblical stories? Are they reminders of the faith a Christian should put in God on a daily basis? What is the significance of using bronze, when painting (such as tempera on vellum) would have been more economic? How many religious scenes has Ghiberti portrayed, and how many others have done similar? Although I now know the answer to some of these questions (bronze doors will hold up to weather better than tempera and Renaissance Catholics loved spending money in exchange for prayers to avoid purgatory) the fact that I posed the questions initially is significant to Bagley's argument. Although he states there is no one correct way to analyze a piece, not all analysis is relevant. Understanding an art piece requires posing questions in order to formulate an idea of the artist's intentions through technique and design and how the intention correlates with the time period and culture. Without history, one cannot understand the importance of art, and without art, the significance of that history would be lost.

If I were to have done the assignment without the context I gave the artwork, then the scene would have no true meaning. The older man's sweeping arm would not be a gesture of his faith in God, but rather a scene of the moments before a man murders a nude young boy. The figure reaching out of the panel toward the man would not be an angel stopping Abraham and telling him his faith in God has been tested and is true, but rather an otherworldly and seemingly random unearthly intervention. When one looks at a piece of art it is in one's nature to form a type of narrative, to make sense of something unknown. Without comparison, the intention of the artist is lost, and without intention, art historical significance cannot be found, for intention, execution, portrayal, and analytical comparison are necessary for using art as a culturally informative and valuable part of historical context.

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An Analysis of the Claims of Robert Bagley in The First Paper Assignment Using the Example of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Bronze Relief of the Sacrifice of Isaac. (2023, May 01). Retrieved from

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