Friday, 18 April 2014

On Caravaggio As (Like Duchamp) An Artist of Time

The narrator of my novel is an obsessive-compulsive guy named Isaac. Among a few other quirks, he is a devoted admirer of the Italian pre-Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, now known most commonly just as Caravaggio, which is where he was from. Caravaggio was a master of chiaroscuro, painting which relies upon a strong contrast between light and dark. He arguably moved art toward modernity in a couple of ways, one of which is illustrated in this (c. 1595) painting, Boy Bitten By A Lizard. In an excellent little book on Caravaggio, Lambert (2000, p. 32) wrote of this painting that it "is a revolution in itself, marking the advent of the instantaneous in painting" (though also noting its inspiration in Sofonisba Anguissola's c. 1554 drawing Portrait of Her Son Asdrubale Bitten by a Crayfish, drawn for the more famous Michelangelo). This focus on time in painting allows us, perhaps, to draw a direct line between Caravaggio and Marcel Duchamp, whose (1912) Nude Descending A Staircase #2 deconstructed time into instantaneous pieces and then put them back together again. [On time and Duchamp, see also this post and this post.]

1 comment:

  1. The capture of the moment of deep emotion in art, such as in Caravaggio's Boy Bitten by a Lizard, is also to be found in some of the classical Greek works. The sculpture of Polyphemus about to be blinded from Tiberius' grotto at Sperlonga, and (a Roman work) the firm, yet rising, stance of Augustus in the Prima Porta portrait are examples of the capture of the capture of the instantaneous (but also substantial) moment. Nigel Spivey wove this (Hellenistic)/Imperial mastery of the representation of the intense and instantaneous as a theme in his television series.
    The rediscovery in 1506 of the statue of Laocoon and His Sons has been credited, rightly, as a major stimulus of Michelangelo's serpentine sinuosity in his later art. But the faces of the priest and his sons are also portraits of instantaneous emotion, of the realisation that they are being crushed by fate.
    In his analysis of classical art, the pioneering art historian-theoretician Winckelmann used as an illuminating example Niobe changed to stone to stop, and preserve, the grief caused by the death of her children, killed by Apollo and Artemis.
    Nonetheless, it is only in the (very) late Renaissance that Anguissola and Caravaggio, in particular, find, refine, and refound the representation of instantaneous emotion in the plastic arts.
    From the observations by our blogspot author, Chris Westbury, we could start to look at other aspects, such as how the chiaroscuro in Caravaggio's work can start to show and shadow doubles of emotions - pain and parental concern in several of the examples mentioned above, and pain and sexual, gently orgasmic pleasure in Caravaggio's portraits of his rent boys. And then there are partial histories of modern art springing from this. GREG Bird