Dense Composition


A general category for artworks, typically two-dimensional, that contain a large amount of visual content, whether it be representational iconography or abstract forms. This content usually fills the entirety of the composition, leaving very little negative or blank space. Dense compositions have long played a role in art history: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic compositions and Greek and Roman sculptural friezes, for instance, almost always included tightly-packed or overlapping human figures. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Hieronymus Bosch and Albrecht Dürer's dense compositions included complex narratives and allegorical messages as well as distinct and original figurative styles. Mannerism, a style practiced most famously by El Greco, responded to the order and idealization of Renaissance art with dramatically lit and arranged compositions that left few open spaces. 18th-century Rococo works were also densely-packed compositions and designs, characterized by profuse ornamentation and fanciful scenes. During the 20th century's shift to abstraction, Cubist canvases presented a new vision of reality through tightly-arranged, shifting planes of imagery. This preference for densely packed abstract forms and gestures continued with the action paintings Jackson Pollock, and more recently Cecily Brown's chaotic, fragmented depictions of human bodies.