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The Portrayal of Disaster in Western Fine Art

Alexander, DE; (2016) The Portrayal of Disaster in Western Fine Art. Environmental Hazards , 15 (3) pp. 209-226. 10.1080/17477891.2016.1173007. Green open access

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Abstract

This paper offers a survey of how disaster has been depicted in Western art over the centuries. Particular emphasis is placed on the Italian tradition, as Italy is a country that has a rich experience of both artistic developments and disasters and has therefore led the field and provided inspiration to artists from other countries. The survey begins with a few words on Classical art and moves on to a consideration of the Mediaeval fresco tradition. The vision of disaster was expanded when naturalism was introduced into art during the Renaissance. Whereas earthquakes had been a prime motivation for artistic representations in the Mediaeval period, during the Baroque volcanic eruptions seem to have been more popular, especially given the remarkable concentration of artistic output around Mount Vesuvius in the 18th century. Throughout this time, marine painters concentrated on the effects of storm and shipwreck, but often with interesting delineations of extreme atmospheric phenomena. In the 19th century moralism was expressed in the canvasses of John Martin and other painters of the Apocalypse. In the 20th century, Expressionism favoured the lively depiction of scenes involving disaster or natural hazards and so, surprisingly, did certain forms of metaphysical abstraction. In conclusion, disaster has been seen in the Western tradition of fine art in six ways: as spectacle, as allegory (through Classical mythology or Biblical drama), as a votive instrument of atonement, as a visual commemoration of an extreme event, and as a dramatization of a metaphysical proposition.

Type: Article
Title: The Portrayal of Disaster in Western Fine Art
Location: United Kingdom
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/17477891.2016.1173007
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2016.1173007
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Environmental Hazards on 15 April 2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/17477891.2016.1173007.
Keywords: Disaster, Fine art, Painting, drawing and print-making, Western civilisation, Art history
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Inst for Risk and Disaster Reduction
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1477203
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