Imitating, adapting and surpassing


Imitatio, variatio and aemulatio



The Latin terms imitatio, variatio and aemulatio refer to important concepts in art history:
- imitatio refers to imitation of an art work
- variatio refers to interpretation, adaptation and variation
- and aemulatio refers to 'emulation', trying to outdo or surpass the original.
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Art and designSecondary Education

This lesson contains 22 slides, with text slides.

time-iconLesson duration is: 20 min

Introduction

Vincent van Gogh looked for inspiration in his everyday surroundings and in the work of other artists. Students can independently complete this lesson about imitating, adapting and surpassing.

Instructions

General learning objectives
- The students will be introduced to Vincent van Gogh.
- The students will see several art works by Van Gogh and debate whether they are imitations, adaptations, or examples of surpassing the original.
- The students will then imitate, adapt, or try to surpass a work from the collection of the Van Gogh Museum.

Materials required
- To work on the lesson independently, students will need a smartphone or computer.

Optional variations
- To save time, one or more assignments can be left out.

Background information
- More information about Van Gogh and Japan.

Items in this lesson


Imitatio, variatio and aemulatio



The Latin terms imitatio, variatio and aemulatio refer to important concepts in art history:
- imitatio refers to imitation of an art work
- variatio refers to interpretation, adaptation and variation
- and aemulatio refers to 'emulation', trying to outdo or surpass the original.

Slide 1 - Slide

Inspiration from the real world

Slide 2 - Slide


To find ideas for his paintings, Vincent van Gogh looked closely at the world around him. He saw towns and villages, fields, hills, forests and people . . .


Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Wheatfield
Date June 1888
Collection Collectie P. and N. de Boer Foundation, Amsterdam

Slide 3 - Slide


. . . and sometimes he saw himself!


When we look at Vincent's art, it's as if we are looking through his eyes.

This painting is called The Painter on the Road to Tarascon. Vincent painted it in 1888. In the Second World War, it was destroyed in an bombing raid.

Slide 4 - Slide



Of course, Vincent also looked at the work of other artists. Sometimes he even used their art as a model for his own . . .

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Self-Portrait as a Painter
Date 1887 - 1888
Place Paris
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

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Finding inspiration in

Western art

Slide 6 - Slide


... Consider this painting, The Thresher. Vincent based it on a reproduction of a drawing by Jean-François Millet, a French painter he greatly admired.
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Thresher (after Millet)
Date September 1889
Place Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

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Here you can see the two works side by side. The scenes are almost exactly the same, but the two artists handle them completely differently. Vincent's use of  colour and swirling brushwork make his painting more than a copy. It surpasses the original.

Slide 8 - Slide

Vincent wrote, 'It seems to me that doing painting after these Millet drawings is much rather to translate them into another language than to copy them.

Vincent to his brother Theo on 3 November 1889.

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Vincent made paintings inspired by a number of Millet's works, but also by other artists, such as Rembrandt and Eugène Delacroix.
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt)
Date May 1890
Place Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 10 - Slide



The Raising of Lazarus
(print after Rembrandt)

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If you click on the icon, you can see that Vincent used only a small part of this print. He left out the main figure, Christ.


Vincent probably identified with Lazarus in the tomb. He gave Lazarus red hair like his own.


The two women in Vincent's version are two acquaintances from Arles, where he had lived: Mrs Roulin, in a green dress, and Mrs Ginoux, in a dress with colourful stripes.

Slide 12 - Slide

This is a self-portrait by Vincent. His red hair is clearly visible.
Self-Portrait as a Painter, 1887-88
This woman in green is Mrs Roulin.
Augustine Roulin (La Berceuse), 1889
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
This is Mrs Ginoux in her striped dress.
L'Arlésienne, 1890
Kröller Müller Museum, Otterlo

Slide 13 - Slide

Question 1


Do you think Vincent's Raising of Lazarus imitates, adapts or surpasses Rembrandt's original sketch? Give reasons for your answer.

Slide 14 - Slide

Finding inspiration in

Japanese art

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Vincent also worked with non-Western models. Japanese prints were one of his greatest sources of inspiration. They taught him to see the world in a different way.
Artist Utagawa Hiroshige
Title Sudden Evening Shower on the Great Bridge near Atake
Date 1857
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

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'And we wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful, and it makes us return to nature, despite our education and our work in a world of convention.'
Vincent to his brother Theo, 23 or 24 September 1888.

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Japan mania




Vincent was certainly not the only person inspired by Japan. In his time, there was a craze for Japanese things. Woodcuts were imported from Japan in large numbers.
After 200 years of being almost completely closed to the West, Japan was forced to open its doors in 1854. Types of Japanese art and decorative objects that had previously been almost unknown, such as kimonos, fans, parasols, lacquered objects and folding screens, became wildly popular in Europe. The World's Fairs of 1862 in London and 1867 in Paris contributed to the craze.
A woodcut is an image carved into wood and then printed on a material such as paper.

Slide 18 - Slide


Vincent, his brother Theo, and their artist friends had large collections of Japanese prints. Vincent even organised an exhibition of his prints in a café in Paris.
This is Agostina Segatori. She was the owner of the café Le Tambourin, where Vincent held his exhibition of Japanese prints. In the background of the painting, you can see the prints on the wall. Vincent may have painted Agostina during the exhibition.
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title In the Café: Agostina Segatori in Le Tambourin
Date January - March 1887
Place Paris
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

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For this work, Bridge in the Rain, Vincent used a woodcut by the Japanese artist Hiroshige as his model.
He wrote about it to his brother Theo: 'I envy the Japanese the extreme clarity that everything in their work has. It’s never dull, and never appears to be done too hastily.' (24 Sept. 1888)

Slide 20 - Slide




Assignment 2




Compare the scenes in these two paintings, and then look at the execution – in other words, at the different ways the artists handled them. In Bridge in the Rain, do you think Vincent imitates, adapts or surpasses Hiroshige's woodcut? Give reasons for your answer.

Artist Utagawa Hiroshige
Title Sudden Evening Shower on the Great Bridge near Atake
Date 1857
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige)
Date October-November 1887
Place Paris
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 21 - Slide

Assignment 3


Your turn! Pick an art work from the Van Gogh Museum collection and make a copy (imitate), or a variation (adapt) or try to outdo (surpass) the original.

Click here to begin.




Is it hard to choose? Use a search term like the name of an artist or a subject.

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