The Draughtsman’s Contract

The Renaissance and Baroque are two approaches to visuality that are discussed by Martin Jay in his article ‘Scopic Regimes of modernity. ‘ These two styles of visual representation have very different, somewhat opposing characteristics. The movie The Draughtsman’s Contract features these attributes in several ways. The film features Mr Neville, a haughty, young artist who is contracted to produce a set of twelve drawings of the estate of Mrs Herbert’s husband for £8 per sketch and twelve sexual favours. The movie itself demonstrates a transition from a Renaissance to a Baroque perspective.

This is apparent in more than one aspect of the film. Evidence of characteristics of the two forms of visual representation and this shift can be observed in the techniques of filming and also the narrative and characters themselves. The first form of visual representation discussed in Martin Jay’s article ‘Scopic regimes of modernity’ is the Renaissance. Its notions of perspective are typically claimed to be the dominant visual model of the modern era. 1 The renaissance began in Italy in the early fourteenth century, reaching its peak during the 1500’s and is characterised by a revival of cultural, scientific and artistic activity.

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During the Renaissance period, people were discovering views of the world in terms of maths and science, in contrast to the conventional views of the church. This rise of understanding influenced the methods used in Renaissance notions of perspective. Technique of perspective, perspective being classically defined as a picture of a view seen from a window,2 and a fusion between science and art were emphasised through Renaissance art. In relation to art, the Renaissance artist designated a single spectator in space and attempted to control the viewer’s gaze whilst constructing an ordered view of the world.

A viewing grid was used when creating artwork as a “window to the world” emphasising this sense of control, balance and order. There was a great deal of emphasis on the scientific and mechanical view towards depicting nature. 3 Being concerned with the mathematics of perspective it utilized the “vanishing point” to create depth, aiming to capture a three dimensional view onto a two dimensional space. Mr Neville uses a viewing grid when drawing each of the twelve scenes. Each sketch features the distinctive qualities of Renaissance perspectivalism.

Throughout the film, this can be seen in the drawings created by Mr Neville and also in the composition of the actual scene that the drawings are based upon. Most scenes in the movie are filmed as still shots. These still images, when analysed depict the distinctive attributes of the Renaissance perspective. For example, the still shot of the garden illustrates the notion of a vanishing point. By examining the scene it is clear that the geometric space leads towards a central point. Mr Neville creates a curriculum for the execution of the 12 drawings he is contracted to produce.

He declares in his self-assured manner: “From seven o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock in the morning the whole of the back of the house… will be kept clear. No person shall use the back door or interfere with the windows or back part of the house. ” This quote shows that he is intent on controlling the scenes he will be drawing, making an effort for each of the 12 scenes to be picturesque, another example of the concept of control he exhibits. “I try hard not to distort nor dissemble. ” He refers to the reasons why there are odd elements in his drawings such as a piece of clothing or a pair of boots.

It is an interesting irony that although Neville is focused on making each location of the house appear uninterrupted, by having authority over how a site can look he is in fact distorting the natural appearance of the different sites. The abstract coldness of the perspectival gaze meant the withdrawal of the painter’s emotional entanglement with the objects depicted in the geometricalised space. 4 What this is essentially saying is that Renaissance artwork is unemotional and the visual order is de-eroticised.

In representation, expression of human emotion is stylised rather than real. 5 Mr Neville, the draughtsman, demonstrates attributes that correspond to characteristics of the Renaissance through his actions of rigidness and thematical display of ‘control. ‘ This is evident in the portrayal of his daily sexual encounters with Mrs. Herbert. Neville is firm and inflexible in his treatment towards Mrs. Herbert. During each of their meetings, it is apparent he removes her clothing very mechanically, casually conversing with her as he advances upon her body.

For example, in one meeting he cuts her dress open with a pair of scissors. In another he commands Mrs Herbert to “Kneel Madam! ” He gives clear orders to her to lie down or place her body to his liking. There is also an obvious lack of passion, engendering a feeling that sex to him is a mere procedure or process. In this sense he is adhering to the Renaissance characteristics relating to control, order, and de-eroticism as the idea of Neville being in charge, or believing he is in charge throughout the scene and for most of the duration of the film is unmistakable.

In contrast to the Renaissance, whose art and literature existed largely as objects of ideal beauty or learning, the Baroque form of visual representation was characterised largely by a sense of movement, energy and tension, which may be either real or implied. It developed as a reaction to renaissance art during the late 1500’s. Artists of this period were concerned with the inner workings of the mind and therefore Baroque art directly appealed to the emotions of a viewer, featuring dramatic contrasts, strong diagonals, brilliant colours and swirling intensity.

It used strong distinctions between light and shadow, however was also often soft-focused and open. Opacity and unreadability were common attributes seen in Baroque art. The reality that Baroque depicted did not rely on the scientific principles that Renaissance art did. “It honours a certain madness of vision which no longer insists on clarity or lucidity or legibility but instead pushes representation to extremes and leaves us disturbed or exhilarated rather than reassured about our place in the world and its fundamental stability.

” Wollen What this quote reveals is that the baroque is dramatic, intense and eroticised appealing to the emotions of the viewer, unlike Renaissance notions of perspective. There is no dependence on scientific forms of viewing, but in its place a visually intense experience that subsumes the viewer through an overwhelming, extravagant display. Baroque artwork was often a dazzling and ecstatic surplus of images. 6 Although spectacular, it was often disorienting. Artwork often featured distorted visual images. The extremes of the image emanate emotion and exploit emotions of the viewer.

The film demonstrated the transition from Renaissance to Baroque perspective through the narrative, where characteristics of the baroque are evident. Mrs Talman, daughter or Mrs Herbert walks through the meticulously cleared scene of one of Mr Neville’s drawings, gradually placing items of clothing on the path and on trees. This display and Mrs Talman’s provocative statement “It is time, Mr Neville,” signifies Mr Neville’s decline in control and order, a stark contrast to the control that Mr Neville exercised at the start of the film.

Of course, it is understood that Mr Neville was a mere pawn right throughout the entire film in Mrs Herbert’s agenda of the murder of her husband. Another example where Baroque traits are demonstrated is the final scene where Mr Neville is murdered. His brutal murder, by the men of the house demonstrates the extremes and intensity characterised by the baroque. It is associated with the idea of high drama and visual excess. The Renaissance and Baroque are two very different and very contrasting approaches to visuality. One is very controlled, ordered and reliant upon mathematical concepts of perception.

The other is quite spectacular, emotional and unreadable at times. Both are demonstrated in various ways throughout the film. The visual images used in the film are representational of the characteristics of the renaissance perspective. The narrative itself portrays a conversion of Renaissance ideals to those of the baroque. This is mainly accomplished through the character of Mr Neville, the draughtsman himself. These two forms of visual representation have made a significant impact on the modern era and their existence is still influential, as the film The Draughtsman’s Contract proves.