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Axial movements in Guido Reni’s Baroque masterpiece, “Aurora”

L’Aurora (The Aurora) is a large Baroque ceiling fresco painted in 1614 by Guido Reni for the Casino, or garden house adjacent to the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi, in Rome. I created this gif to illustrate better the geometric structure underlining Reni’s beautiful sweeping forms of gods, goddesses and angels in the glorious gold-filled dawn.

The Baroque was known for dynamic movement and triangle compositions that seemed larger than life yet replaced the idealism of the renaissance with something more akin to the drama of an opera (which also became hugely popular around the same time in the 17th century). Below is another of my favorite Reni paintings, Susanna and the Elders (1620-25). The Susanna painting also uses a fantastic composition with powerful axial movements galore.

Susanna and the Elders, Guido Reni / 1620-25

When I was in art school at Pratt, we had several assignments requiring us to select an Old Master painting to break down axially. Any significant curve, line, or other shapes that define the big moves of colors or a figure in the image can be broken down this way. Our professor had us take tracing paper and draw out the significant axial movements with different colored pens or markers directly over a printout of the original painting. These exercises helped me to understand the deeper essence of composition and our class looked at Baroque paintings in particular for their use of balancing diagonals with triangles for a dynamic yet balanced and compositionally strong image. I still make these from masterworks for inspiration and historical allusions in my artwork.

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