Saturday, September 14, 2013

Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was a Northern Baroque painter of the 17th century, who in a time of more reserved spiritual paintings was exactly the opposite. Rubens was raised to have such a deep catholic faith that he almost dared the inquisition to question his paintings. His paintings have a sense of dramatic theatricality and brutal depictions that are truly captivating.

 The Elevation of the Cross is an oil on wood with three panels, although the middle panel is the most focused upon. The painting was originally intended for the main altar of Saint Walburga, but is now located in the transept of the Cathedral in Antwerp. In the painting you see 9 men struggling to raise the wooden cross that Christ is nailed to. Ruben’s makes you feel like you are there with his painting. You can clearly see how much they are struggling to lift the heavy cross into place. You can hear them grunting and the rope straining as they are at mid raise. The diagonal movement of the painting brings a sense of drama that Ruben’s is so well known for.

The Drunken Hercules is an Oil painting by Ruben’s that I found specifically interesting. In the painting you immediately see the massive Hercules who appears to be intoxicated. His hand is barely holding his drink, which looks like he could spill or drop at any moment. He is being supported by mythical Satyrs (half-goat, half-men) and Wood Nymphs (beautiful, near-nubile maidens) who are dancing to display their servitude to the goddess of grape harvest, Dionysus. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sculpture is Alive

One main defining characteristic of the Baroque era is dynamism. The work that was being created in this period portrayed such movement that sculptures seemed to wind around and reach out to the audience. This sense of movement that was being incorporated into works of art seemed so alive that it was no longer just paint on a canvas or a figure carved out of stone.

There is a few works of art that I especially feel capture the movement of the time. "The Rape of Persephone" by Bernini is one of my examples. It captures such emotion that the tear on Persephone's face makes us feel her despair from having been captured by Pluto. You can also see the imprint of his hand on her thigh as he aggressively tries to pull her towards him. The elaborate drapery flows in the wind as does her hair. This work of art captures a moment in time.

Another work of art that captures this liveliness in movement would be "Saint Veronica" by Francesco Mochi. In this sculpture, the sense of urgency that Saint Veronica feels to wipe the blood away from Jesus' face is almost tangible. Mochi demonstrates his talent in sculpting by the way he is able to carve the marble into such thin veils of moving drapery.

The Baroque era was meant to captivate the viewer with emotion, and these sculptures do just that through the craftsmanship of the artist.

Additional Sources:

Video on "The Rape of Persephone"
Baroque Sculpture
Baroque Sculpture 2
NYTimes: Bernini and the Art of Architecture

Caravaggio's Narcissus

Caravaggio has been called the most influential artist of his time. His revolutionary style involved dramatic contrasts between light and dark, giving his art work a sense of theatricality. He also dramatically changed the relationship between the viewer and the artwork, dissolving all barriers and allowing for the viewer (rich or poor) to become a person involved in what the artwork is depicting. You get a sense of darkness when looking at some of Caravaggio’s paintings, which could be a way of expressing what he was feeling at that point in his life.

Narcissus is one of the few paintings Caravaggio did over classical mythology.
The legend states that Narcissus was blessed with an unmatched beauty and in is vain youth he rejected all the advances of women. When one day he came across his reflection in a pool the young boy feel in love with himself. He was so fixated on his reflection that he refused to eat or drink, ultimately his vanity was the death of him. When he died his body was transformed into a yellow flower.

The darkness in the background really draws the viewer’s eye to the illuminated foreground of the painting, which is a typical technique of Caravaggio. You can clearly see how focused the subject of the painting is on his own reflection. As a viewer I get the sense that I am in the pool of water watching the young boy, who is completely unaware of my existence. I find myself thinking “don’t move” for I wouldn’t want to make a ripple in the water and possible break his concentration. It can be speculated that this painting was a vanitas, which purpose was to warn the youth of the danger of pleasures of vanity and nativity. It could be possible that Caravaggio himself was experiencing some of the repercussions of his actions, which I think could have been his inspiration for this painting. 

Rachel Ruysch- A Dutch Still-Life Painter

     With her grandfather being an architect, and her father a professor of anatomy, Rachel Ruysch studied under a still-life specialist known as Willem van Aelst from a young age.  The still-life that Ruysch focused on was demonstrating “the richness of nature and its exotic variety.” 
     The main importance of Still-Life was that it allowed the artists to show their true power. The idea of an artist taking multiple objects that would never exist together and arranging them in an effective way was a new way of development for artists.
     Some of Ruysch’s famous works include A Spray of FlowersFlowers in a Dutch Vase, and An Arrangement of Flowers by a Tree Trunk.  Each of these pieces exhibits how powerful Ruysch’s mind was in having the ability to paint bjects that would never been seek by the naked eye in the same arrangement.
 A Spray of Flowers

Flowers in a Dutch Vase 

An Arrangement of Flowers by a Tree Trunk


     For more Still-Life paintings by Ruysch click here

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin, 1605-1606, Santa Maria della Scala, Rome

 Prostitution in the Christianity has never been an accepted practice despite the sins of the flesh committed by their prominent religious figures. The extremely critical stance that the Catholic church had on carnal sins showed how, at the time, it did not readily accept all peoples despite their Christ's teachings. Ironically, Mary Magdalena, a Christian saint and often misidentified prostitute turned believer, was regarded as second to Mary, mother of Jesus: "She created the symbolic duality of a sinful life in the physical sense, and on the other hand, a pure soul in the spiritual sense."  During this time, the Church was regarded as corrupt and would give out indulgences promising salvation for payment to lay people. They spent the acquired money on lavish structures and personal wants.

This would change during the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther starts to criticize the church for taking indulgences and states that everyone is able to reach God. Prostitution, despite the changes after the Council of Trent, would still be regarded as a negative influence in society: "the harlot's image became a symbol of modern society's illness". 

Caravaggio's Saint Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1598, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, Spain

Caravaggio confronted these negative stigmas by using prostitutes as models throughout his works depicting them as religious figures in history. Because they were well known, it is easy to imagine why such a portrayal would spark an outrage among the community. Consequently, some of Caravaggio's works with prostitutes as models were destroyed. 

One of his most famous works Death of the Virgin shows Mary, mother of Jesus, dead and bloated. The painting was rejected by the patrons who commissioned it because it showed the Virgin subject to degrading earthly forces and she was modeled by a prostitute. This well-known prostitute's name was Fillide and she has been prominently featured in many of Caravaggio's works, many of which were destroyed. 

Caravaggio's Portrait of a Courtesan (aka Portrait of Fillide), c. 1597, destroyed

One of his reasons for using lay people as models in prominent religious works is to show the human connection with the divine. His constant portrayal of Fillide in his works as the main figure is either to show his affections or to evoke a response from the public or both. It would not be surprising if Caravaggio was one of Fillide's patrons since she was always sought out by Rome's elite. Outside of using her as a model for his paintings, Caravaggio also killed Fillide's pimp, Ranuccio Tomassoni, in a attempt to castrate him. 

Caravaggio's Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598, Detroit Institute of Art

Caravaggio's muse is depicted as Mary in Death of the Virgin, Flora in Portrait of a Courtesan, Mary in Martha and Mary Magdalene, Judith in Judith beheading Holofernes, and perhaps many more that may have been destroyed. After 1599, Fillide does not appear in any more of Caravaggio's works. No one knows why and Caravaggio never addressed it. 

Caravaggio's Judith beheading Holofernes, 1598-1599, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini, Rome


The Life of Caravaggio

     Caravaggio, also known as Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, was one of the more influential painters on the Baroque period.  His work has been remembered for its "realistic style, sense of drama, emotion, theatrical quality, and strong contrast."  A technique called tenebrism defines his work, meaning that he utilized light v.s. in a dramatic way. Some of his style can be attributed to Simone Peterzano, whom he studied under in Milan.
     A famous piece by Caravaggio was the "David and Goliath".  Within this piece we begin to see, early on in his career, the stylistic elements that define him as a painter.  Throughout his career these elements become more drastic, as seen in "The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew", and "The Annunciation".
     Although Caravaggio was a successful painter, with many patrons and commissions, he was also known for the trouble he got into, including a quick temper and drinking, as well as several brawls.  He fled to Rome in an attempt to get away from the mess he made of killing a man in 1606, but that still did not stop his troublesome ways.
     Today he is remembered for his dramatic painting style and for the large impact he had on the Baroque period.

For a short video about Caravaggio, click here

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Caravaggio and his Influence on the Baroque

     One of the major painters to help the Church battle against the Protestant argument was Caravaggio. His work was very important, causing an emotional stir for Roman Catholics getting ready to consider converting to Protestantism.
     Certain works such as The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, were meant to reassert the belief in the Truth of Catholicism. The way this work of art is painted and displayed is meant to diminish the boundary between viewer and painting. The emotion that Saint Thomas goes through, something like, "Oh, this is the living flesh of resurrected Christ!", is passed on to us as we more closely examine the finger in the wound. We become one of the spectators behind Jesus and St. Thomas.
     The importance of Baroque painters become so great that painters like Caravaggio could cross the boundaries of what was acceptable, and still be forgiven by the Church. One example of a controversial Caravaggio painting would have to be, as originally named, The Death of the Virgin. The woman who modeled for the Virgin Mary was a well-known prostitute in the days of Caravaggio. Caravaggio's intent was to demonstrate that even a prostitute could receive forgiveness for salvation, therefore giving others hope, but instead, the Church found this to be way to controversial.

Click here for more of Caravaggio's paintings