Snow White meets Giovanni Morelli

By Barry Salt.

“But the study of drawings is not only indispensable to our knowledge of the different masters; it also serves to impress more sharply on our minds the distinguishing characteristics of the several schools. Much more clearly than in painting we recognize in drawing the family features, both intellectual and material, of the different masters and schools, for instance their manner of arranging drapery, the way they indicate light and shadow… the forms of the human body (especially the shape of the hand and also the ear), and of the harmony of colours, so different in the works of these artists”, wrote Giovanni Morelli, Italian Masters in German Galleries (1883).


Giovanni Morelli hoped that his method of examining the minor and subsidiary parts of old paintings and drawings for characteristically idiosyncratic ways of handling would put connoisseurship (the art of attributing paintings to their correct author) on a more scientific basis. Although his approach has undoubtedly made a contribution to this aspect of art history, it has not been as overwhelmingly successful as he hoped it would be. In fact Morelli recognized the principal difficulty, even if he underestimated it. The problem is that a fairly large run of known examples of a particular artist’s work is needed to establish for certain just what is the habitual way he draws or paints ears, or just how long and thin he habitually draws fingers, and so on.

Curiously enough, (and this is also the case for other methods of stylistic analysis), Morelli’s approach works much better with some forms of Twentieth century popular art than with the high art of the Renaissance for which it was invented. This is because in such things as comic strip art the large numbers of drawings by the one hand, necessary to the method, are readily available, and so it is easy to recognize when a continuing comic strip is taken over by another artist.

It might be thought that the artist’s signature would be sufficient, but in the nineteen-forties and fifties such changes in the draughtsmanship of comic strips were not acknowledged as they are now, and the standard signature of the originator of the strip was often forged.

Of course, with twentieth century popular art it is often possible to determine who drew the cartoon in question by other means, but there are still occasions when this can be either very difficult, or even impossible. Since animated cartoons are a closely related medium, all this may well have something new to tell us about them.


1. When I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs again (and I had to assure the person in the box-office it really was the film I wanted to see), I was struck by the way that Snow White’s appearance and movement changed from sequence to sequence.


2. Two books that appeared a few years ago relating the story of Snow White as it is told m the Walt Disney film make possible a closer study of these differences. One of these books is published by Penguin Books the other is published by Viking Books.


3. The various sequences of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were produced by different units within the studio, as is the case for all feature-length animated films. The first stage in the production of the visuals starts with the story sketches.


4. Then come animation layouts which are more precise and show the exact positions of the frame within shots. These first two stages are largely the creation of the Sequence Directors and Art Directors, though there is a certain fluidity in the organization of the process.


5. Afterwards come all the stages of the actual animation drawing, the tracing and painting of the cels, and then photography to give the final frame, which is illustrated here.


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