Since the stone age humankind has created masterworks which possess a mysterious quality of solidity and grandeur or monumentality. A Paleolithic Venus and a still life by Cezanne both share this monumentality. Michelangelo likened monumentality to sculptural relief, Braque called monumentality 'space',
and Hans Hoffman, himself one of the masters, called monumentality 'pictorial depth.' The masters agreed on the import of monumentality, but none of them left a clear explanation of it. In 1943 Earl Loran published his classic book on Cezanne's pictorial structure but, as I demonstrate, his explanation was misleading.
This book provide a clear explanation, as did an earlier book by Robert Casper. This book also traces some history of monumentality with reproductions. It also explains how some painters achieved monumentality and how a student can attempt it.
Pictorial space is created in the tension between pairs of opposing planes. Opposing planes pull against each other, each containing the other, paradoxically, within the flat surface of the canvas. Sculpture also can be 'plastic': opposing masses pull against each other, each containing the other and creating tension in the space which lies between them. Painting has other aspects like subject matter, expression, style and technique but pictorial space does not depend on these.
Monumentality moves us profoundly and apparently has done so since the Paleolith. Using patients' vignettes, I show that there are profound parallels between the structure of a monumental work of art and the structure of an evolving personality. In Winnicott's words, such a personality has 'depth ... an interior space to put beliefs in ... an inside ... a space where things can be held ... the capacity to accept paradox [to contain opposites] ... room and strength ... and originality and the acceptance of tradition as the basis for invention'. A monumental painting also meets this description.
I argue that monumental art provides a visual portrait of an evolving personality just as myth, as Freud and Jung both showed, provides a narrative portrait of an evolving personality. An evolving personality is perhaps humankind's most important creation; an underlying purpose of both myth and art is to help us achieve it. I demonstrate in this book that monumental art represented the evolving personality since at least 35,000 BC. Thus to understand monumentality is to better understand the personality and its history.