An experiment on a bird in the air pump by Joseph Wright

6 June 2016

“An experiment on a bird in the air pump” was oil painted by Joseph Wright; He was best known for his paintings of industrial scenes, and for his dramatic use of lighting famously known as furnace light and candlelight. This artwork (completed in 1768) is also one of his artwork expressing one of the days in the industrial revolution. However here in this artwork, he has depicted a scene of a traveling scientist demonstrating an experiment which proves suffocation.

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As the art work expresses, a scientist which faces towards us is showing the audience how the bird will react when the air surrounding is pumped out. The equipment used is clearly an air pump as we see, and its air in the glass bulb containing a bird as well, has been sucked out by the vacuum. The air pump was invented in 1650 which is roughly a century before this artwork was completed, and was first used on animals a decade later by English scientists who investigated the effects of “impeded respiration” on larks, sparrows, mice, kittens and a number of other small creatures. The artwork shows the image of how the pumps were used, and records the history of how science was like back then. Wright has used the drama of the demonstration to show the impact of the experiment on ordinary people.

As we see in this painting, each shows differing emotions and facial expression which exemplifies the reaction of the experiment. We can see a young man holding a watch, which as we assume, he is timing the experiment. Perhaps he is timing the bird’s convulsions and ultimate death, or maybe he is responsible for indicating to the lecturer the exact moment to readmit air into the receiver. On his left, a young boy is sat while watching with genuine curiosity.

A young couple behind stares at one another, and we could sense that they are completely in love and contains no interest in the experiment. Looking at the couple, we could tell that back in the days, young love wasn’t quite accepted yet and that only when none of the others are watching, they could silently acknowledge their love of each other. As shown, other audience is watching the experiment with fear, curiosity or enjoyment.

This painting known as “The Ambassadors” painted by Hans Holbein the Younger was completed in 1533. Holbein was an outstanding portrait and religious painter of the Northern Renaissance, and was influenced by his father and by Hans Burgkmair. It pictures in details of two man which is considerable to be wealthy as how they dress, and is educated as well which we could assume after absorbing each object expressed in the painting. On the left is Jean de Dinteville, aged 29, French ambassador to England in 1533. To the right stands his friend, Georges de Selve, aged 25, bishop of Lavaur, who acted on several occasions as ambassador to the Emperor, the Venetian Republic and the Holy See.

As well as the two men leaning against a tall table, there are also books and instruments neatly placed on and beside them. The objects on the upper shelf include a celestial globe, a portable sundial and various other instruments used for understanding the heavens and measuring time. Among the objects on the lower shelf is a lute, a case of flutes, a hymn book, a book of arithmetic and a terrestrial globe. These symbolizes what they do, what they use for it, what they could be related to etc. If viewing the product really closely, on the top left hand corner hides a Christian symbol, which could hint us their religion.

The mysterious foreground object locating in the bottom center, is impossible to “read” from a frontal viewing angle. Only after stood in an angle viewing from the right, appears a natural looking skull, and from that direction it seems as if the skull is painted normally just like some other parts of the artwork; the skull blends naturally into the painting. Anamorphic drawing techniques were well known to Holbein and other artists of the age.

Those practiced in such techniques were able to produce a kind of drawing presenting a distorted image which appeared in “natural” form under certain angle or condition, and were well known as a technique only limited number of artist could produce. This ability to depict the technique symbolized the quality and the talent of the artist of the time, and of course as clear, Holbein was also one the talented artist then.

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