Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 9th: more Baroque violence

Knife Fights 
Beauties and Beasts: Judith &Holofernes; Artemesia Gentileschi & Michelangelo Caravaggio, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, his Brother Luigi, & the inconstant Constance. 

a few helpful terms:
Renaissance "The "rebirth" of art in Italy was connected with the rediscovery of ancient philosophy, literature, and science and the evolution of empirical methods of study in these fields. Increased awareness of classical knowledge created a new resolve to learn by direct observation and study of the natural world. Consequently, secular themes became increasingly important to artists, and with the revived interest in antiquity came a new repertoire of subjects drawn from Greek and Roman history and mythology. The models provided by ancient buildings and works of art also inspired the development of new artistic techniques and the desire to re-create the forms and styles of classical art.
Central to the development of Renaissance art was the emergence of the artist as a creator, sought after and respected for his erudition and imagination. Art, too, became valued--not merely as a vehicle for religious and social didacticism, but even more as a mode of personal, aesthetic expression. The art of the High Renaissance, however, sought a general, unified effect of pictorial representation or architectural composition, increasing the dramatic force and physical presence of a work of art and gathering its energies and forming a controlled equilibrium. " from the webmuseum at ibiblio

Baroque "Baroque period, era in the history of the Western arts roughly coinciding with the 17th century. Its earliest manifestations, which occurred in Italy, date from the latter decades of the 16th century, while in some regions, notably Germany and colonial South America, certain of its culminating achievements did not occur until the 18th century. The work that distinguishes the Baroque period is stylistically complex, even contradictory. In general, however, the desire to evoke emotional states by appealing to the senses, often in dramatic ways, underlies its manifestations. Some of the qualities most frequently associated with the Baroque are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, vitality, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.

A term used in the literature of the arts with both historical and critical meanings and as both an adjective and a noun. The word has a long, complex and controversial history (it possibly derived from a Portuguese word for a misshapen pearl, and until the late 19th century it was used mainly as a synonym for `absurd' or `grotesque'), but in English it is now current with three principal meanings." from the webmuseum at ibiblio

 (It. "light dark")
In painting, the modelling of form (the creation of a sense of three-dimensionality in objects) through the use of light and shade. The introduction of oil paints in the 15th century, replacing tempera, encouraged the development of chiaroscuro, for oil paint allowed a far greater range and control of tone. The term chiaroscuro is used in particular for the dramatic contrasts of light and dark introduced by Caravaggio. When the contrast of light and dark is strong, chiaroscuro becomes an important element of composition. (from Web Gallery of Art
A style of painting especially associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow but some are dramatically illuminated by a concentrated beam of light usually from an identifiable source (from Web Gallery of Art
Caravaggio (1571-1610)
As I noted earlier this term, the very act of recording the names and biographies of artists in the Renaissance provides one of the markers that makes many historians call the Renaissance the first Modern Period. Perhaps it's not unexpected that three artists who, more than any others, define the Italian Baroque Period, which emphasized drama more than any other trait, lived incredibly dramatic lives that fed into their works.  
File:Caravaggio incredulity.jpg
Caravaggio, Incredulity of St. Thomas, 1602

First, Michelangelo da Caravaggio, known as Caravaggio, who, upon losing his father and grandfather to the Black Plague on the same day, and his mother a less than decade later, left his humble country roots to move to Milan to study painting then to Rome (possibly on the run for the first time, after injuring a police officer) to pursue life as a painter. Caravaggio at first struggled significantly, perhaps seduced by the new charms and possibilities of city life, and certainly struggling under its fiscal burdens. He found his footing painting still lives in the workshop of a highly successful painter, and then, after languishing ill for a summer, he stepped out on his own and began a series of allegorical portraits, which also served as advertisements for his skill in the areas of still life, portrait, and history painting. 
Caravaggio, Young Bacchus, 1595
It was not long before his powerfully realistic and dramatic style caught the eye of leaders in the church, and he entered the more profitable and respected genre of religious paintings, much more likely to launch an artist into fame. Which it did. 

Caravaggio, Calling of St. Thomas, 1599

With fame, Caravaggio's exploits in the streets drew attention. Jealous artists and police alike turned their punitive eyes on his violent swaggering about town between commissions, and his knife fights and street brawls got him thrown into jail again and again. Lucky for Caravaggio, he had powerful friends who, until his violence finally, and, it seems, inevitably, resulted in murder, managed to keep the artist from spending much time in jail.
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Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1609

Caravaggio's Fight Club lifestyle contrasted significantly with his intensive and dedicated work in the studio; contemporary accounts indicate that he flipped back and forth between periods of hard work and periods of violent play. His life in the streets put him in contact with struggling artists, prostitutes, thieves and other rough elements; the admiration of the highest level of art connoisseurs put him in contact with cardinals and popes.
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Caravaggio, Death of the Virgin, 1605
This double existence seems to appear in his work: many say he achieved such power in his religious works because he cast everyday ruffians in roles previously tidied up and  detached from the everyday in the perfect, idealized heros of the Renaissance and before. Caravaggio animates the stories he tells by telling them with everyday, contemporary character, making them seem much more immediate. Yet people were shocked to see what they could easily imagine a prostitute (male or female) playing the role of a gospel or saint.
Caravaggio, Entombment, ~1602

File:Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - Judith Beheading Holofernes (detail) - WGA04103.jpg
Caravaggio, Judith, 1598
Caravaggio achieved great fame during his own lifetime, and lashed out in print and in person against those he saw as his imitators. Nonetheless, he left behind a significant string of followers we now know as the Caravaggisti, who did not train with him-- or, in most cases, even know him-- but imitated his style through his works.

Artemesia Gentileschi (1593-1656
Among the most highly regarded of the Caravaggisti was Artemesia Gentileschi, one of the most skilled painters and certainly the most famous woman artist of the Italian Baroque. Daughter of a painter, Artemesia showed strong talent early, and trained with her father and the continued with Agostino Tassi.

File:Tassi, Agostino - Naufragio della flotta di Enea - 1627.jpg
Agnostino Tassi, The Fleet of Aeneas, 1593

Artemesia's first painting (that still exists) shows the story of Susanna and the Elders, completed in 1610, when Artemesia was 17. The story tells of pair of respected elders who fell so in lust with Susanna that they contrived an opportunity to spy on her as she was bathing. The men tried to trap her by telling her that if she would not lie with them, they would accuse her of adultery with a young man. Susanna refused, and the men very nearly had her put to death, despite her history of purity,  until they were trapped by careful cross examination and she was set free. 

Artemesia Gentileschi, Susanna and the Elders, 1610
In 1611, Artemesia accused her teacher, Tassi, of rape. Artemesia experienced terrible treatment after she accused Tassi, and the trial resulted in little clarity. Subjected to thumbscrews and significant humiliations during the trial, the outcome was never entirely conclusive, despite the fact that Tassi had previously been accused of rape and other violence. We can't draw any very exact conclusions about what happened between Artemesia and Tassi; relationships between teacher and student and accused and victim tangled confusingly, and unequal balance of power between women and men complicate it further.
Judith beheading Holofernes, detail, 1612–1613,  Artemisia Gentileschi. Italian Early Baroque painter,  (1593–1652)
Artemesia repeatedly painted stories of violent power struggle between men and women, thereby making it very difficult to separate her life from her art, and indeed, her personal experiences may have helped her to achieve such dramatic intensity in her portrayals of women in power. 
Artemesia Gentileschi, Self Portrait, ~1638
 Most famously, she considered the story of Judith and Holofernes repeatedly, a topic also painted repeatedly by her "mentor," Caravaggio, who tackled three subjects in which beheading was central: 

Caravaggio, Medusa Shield, 1596
The Medusa Shield, a self portrait reportedly inspired by Leonardo's trick

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1610

David with the Head of Goliath, in which Caravaggio depicted himself unusually as the head of the monstrous enemy, not the pure hero as other artists had done
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Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, 1599

File:Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holofernes - WGA8563.jpg
Artemesia, Judith and Holofernes, 1611
File:GENTILESCHI Judith.jpg
Artemesia, Judith and Holofernes, 16?

Artemesia, Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, 1614-1620
Artemesia, Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, 1614-1620

 and Judith and Holofernes, where a pure, female martyr gave herself to save her people.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
I leave the telling of Bernini's encounters with violence to Simon Schama, as he told it with drama befitting the baroque.

Bust of Costanza Buonarelli  - Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Head of Costanza, 163
Bernini, Self Portrait as Damned Soul, 1619 image source here.

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