Painting The Encounter through the Ages

In the story of Saint Francis and the Sultan, biographers and artists differed in portraying the nature of the encounter itself—Saint Francis’ motives in going to meet the Sultan in his camp during the time when the Crusaders were trying to take and hold the city of Damietta. They also differ in how they portray the Sultan, the people at his court, and the soldiers who brought Francis to him.

These portrayals reflect attitudes toward the Sultan and the Egyptians—and to an extent Islam itself—as an enemy or as a possible partner in negotiations, or as an object of preaching toward converting him to Christianity. The nature of  the encounter, the characters of those present, their conversation, and the outcome vary widely over the centuries.

Among the visual tools artists select to impress the viewer are composition  (the size and arrangement of the figures and other objects), color and light, and even in a still image, the illusion of movement. These tools help to move the viewer’s eyes within the frame of the image—to catch attention, tell the story, convey a mood and sway the viewer’s opinion about the whole.  Analysis of such visual images is a useful skill in understanding art, but also in making sense of the many images that cross our field of vision by choice in a visit to a place of interest, or all around us, through advertising, for example. 

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