Brady Quinn, iconography + advertising
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
In the midst of the "High School Football Preview" section of my copy of Sports Illustrated, waiting in my mailbox for me today, was the above advertisement for "Saturday Night Football" on ABC-TV.
Although our current culture is very much a visual one, many of you may not recognize the direct art historical quotations in this full-page, color ad for a college football game. But the quotations abound as the photograph of the Notre Dame quarterback builds upon an ancient visual tradition. For early-21st-century Americans, our visual culture exists amid a changing intellectual context in which these other works of art continue to play a role...whether or not we are consciously aware of the direct references.
A bunch of specific images within our visual culture immediately came to my mind when I saw Brady Quinn in the ABC-TV ad in SI: (1) Apollo, from Veii, ca. 500 B.C., a painted terracotta Etruscan sculpture, 5'10" in height, now in the Villa Giulia museum in Rome; (2) Aulus Metellus, found in the vicinity of Lake Trasimeno, a late 2nd or early 1st century B.C. bronze sculpture, 5'11" in height, now in the National Archaeology Museum in Florence, Italy; (3) Augustus of Primaporta, an early 1st century marble Roman sculpture now in the Vatican Museums; (4) Michelangelo's Creation of Adam from the frescoes on the vault of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican; and (5) a detail of a photograph, "Kennedy Inaugural Ball" by Paul Schutzer and dated January 20, 1961, from Life magazine.
Numerous other examples -- of gods, emperors, saints, kings, orators, and more -- could also be mentioned in this art historical tradition.
The Etruscan Apollo has vigor and grace appropriate for a god.
The large bronze portrait of Aulus Metellus, commonly known as "The Orator," shows his arm out-stretched and addressing a gathering during the era of the ancient Roman Republic.
The marble sculpture of the Roman emperor Augustus is imperial portraiture for political propaganda. Adapting the orator's gesture and dressed in armor, Augustus has the features of a powerful, young ruler. As a symbol of Augustus's divine Roman heritage (from Julius Casear back to Aeneas), the god Cupid, son of the goddess Venus, rides a dolphin at Augustus's feet. The pose expresses authority and persuasiveness.
In a fresco that has become synonymous with the story of creation in Genesis, Michelangelo’s image builds upon the ideas of ancient sculpture and the (popular in Renaissance Florence) Neo-platonic concept of ideal beauty. One of the most famous images of visual culture, Michelangelo’s poetic fresco depicts God’s finger as spirit within a rich theological tradition. At the time Michelangelo was working in the Sistine for Pope Julius II, the artist wrote a fragment on a poem about God in which he mentions the Creator’s “divine art.”
Meanwhile, the powerful photograph of our first and only Roman Catholic president (and his lovely wife) makes use of this entire visual tradition surrounding the gesture of both the human and the divine.
In the ad for college football, Notre Dame quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Brady Quinn stands near the line of scrimmage -- with an out-stretched arm -- and calls out the details of the defensive formation and the blocking assignments. Quinn has all the vigor and grace appropriate for a leader. An image of advertising, the photograph depicts the Fighting Irish orator, dressed in his football “armor,” with an expression of authority and persuasiveness. All the usual college football tropes -- as religion, as battle, as tradition, as history, as life -- come into focus in ABC-TV’s SI ad.