Hands in Paintings + Sculpture

Hands in Paintings + Sculpture
That which expresses touch, emotion, and animation, human hands have been a subject used by artists since the beginning of time. I will explain.

The oldest known hand painting, some 64,000 years ago, is from the Maltravieso cave in Spain.

On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, 40,000 years ago, hand markings can be found in their caves.

Another example of cave art is Cueva de las Manos or "Cave of Hands," dated 13,000 – 9,000 years old where the artists created stencils, then blew pigments onto the walls.

Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci studied the human body, concentrating on hands. His anatomical sketches of 1510 are held in the Royal Collection Trust, UK.

Leonardo da Vinci's long-lost painting (or not) "Salvador Mundi" or "Savior of the World" (1500) is of Christ with his right hand raised in blessing, and his left hand holding an orb.

Some other paintings by Leonardo worth mentioning are: "Lady with an Ermine" (1489) with the subject holding her pet and "Virgin of the Rocks" (1483-1486) where the archangel Uriel literally points at the infant on the left. Is it John the Baptist or his cousin Jesus?

It remains controversial as the infant on the right raises his hand in blessing as Mary holds her hand over his head. It seems reasonable to believe John is the infant on the left, Jesus on the right.

Leonardo's "Vitruvian Man" (1490) is a study of the human body, incorporating mathematics.

As important is Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo who sculpted "David" (1501-1504) from marble. There are some theories for the oversized right hand.

Was it to represent David's strength? To make humans feel less than adequate? Or simply to exaggerate the size of the hand as it was meant to be viewed from below?

German artist Albrecht Durer created a pen and ink drawing "Praying Hands" or "Study of the Hands" (1508), whose reproduction can be found in many Christian homes.

French sculptor Auguste Rodin created "The Clenched Hand" and "The Left Hand" (later rejected) as studies for the "Burghers of Calais" (1884-1889). The final version would have subjects with enlarged hands, some raised.

French Neoclassical artist Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun painted "Self Portrait in Straw Hat" (1782) where she poses naturally, holding her palette and brushes.

From the same era, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' "Contesse d'Haussonville" (1845) "strikes a pose" as Madonna said in her song "Vogue." This significant painting can be seen at the Frick Collection, NY.

The clenched fist is the universal sign of solidarity, first used for workers' rights movement in 1912 Budapest, Hungary, then more recently as the Black Lives Matter emblem.

Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrazabal built "Mano del Desierto" (1992), a large-scale sculpture in Atacama Desert, Chile. It emphasizes "human vulnerability and helplessness."

Lorenzo Quinn, son of actor Anthony Quinn, constructed the art installation "Support," 5,000 lbs. white hands (with detail) propped against Venice's Ca' Sagredo Hotel from the 14th century. Based on his children's hands, it represented "innocence and the power of the next generation." It was dismantled in 2018.

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