Tondos and Canadian Art

Madison Beale | August 21, 2023

A short exploration of the tondo format and how Canadian painters have used it.

A circular painting may often be referred to as a "tondo" in an art historical context. The word comes from the Italian word "rotondo" meaning "round" and was a popular way of painting during the Italian Renaissance. Even though the word referring to these paintings originated in the Renaissance, its linguistic and art historical roads can be traced back to Ancient Rome. Round tempera panels depicting families and marriages were a way to memorialise Imperial history and depart from sculptural or mosaic traditions. 

Woman And Terrier

Woman and Terrier (1963)
Alex Colville
Acrylic Polymer Emulsion
24 x 24 in
Previously Sold by Mayberry Fine Art

Why might an artist use the tondo format today? In these three examples, Colville, Barsy and Tarsia all want to convey a sense of interconnectedness with their environment. The circle shape implies a sense of reciprocity and cohesion with one's surroundings and mirrors the shape of our world. Alex Colville's "Woman and Terrier" shows visual links to the world as we know it today with a plane taking off and modern clothing, though Colville looks back to the Renaissance by using the tondo format and a dog as a symbol for fidelity, often found in portraits at the feet or lap of a patron's bride. Colville's wife, Rhoda Wright, was used as a model for this work and many of his other paintings. Above all, these pieces remind us to remain present in our ever changing world.

1682713810 16213744763501133230barsy Dee Jpg

Manidoons (A bug)

Dee Barsy

Acrylic on Panel, 2021

24 x 24 in

Available now

1685045925 16014071020161132480tarsia Ewa Tiare Jpg

The Tiare Apetahi Flower

Ewa Tarsia

Acrylic on Panel, 2020

44 x 44 in

Available now