by Julie Schauer | Jan 8, 2012 | Baroque Art, Caravaggio, Kimbell Art Museum Ft. Worth
Saint Francis in Ecstasy, from the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT, is in the Kimbell Art Museum’s exhibition, Caravaggio and His Followers until January 8
One painting in the Kimbell Art Museum’s Caravaggio exhibition (today is the last day) reveals an unexpected side of Caravaggio’s nature. St. Francis in Ecstasy, from the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, CT, is poetic. Parallel lines of light on water to the left lead to a very sweet angel holding St. Francis. The saint has swooned after receiving the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus. In dead center, St. Francis’s foreshortened hand vaguely reveals this hole representing the nail that went into Christ’s hand.
Intentionally I have refrained from writing about the type of paintings for which Caravaggio is most famous. The Boy Bitten by a Lizard
and The Sacrifice of Isaac
(in the Kimbell exhibition)
cause discomfort and hit us in the gut. As Isaac is about to be killed by his father Abraham, he looks out of the painting and appeals to the viewers. We feel the boy’s fear, but an angel rushes in to stop the father from killing him. Saint Francis is a much gentler vision, but like the other paintings, it concentrates on a crucial, transitional moment.
It is amazing that such a different sentiment can come from the same man who painted both joy and extreme pain, much like the extremes of his own life.
Detail of The Sacrifice of Isaac: Caravaggio’s Isaac calls out for sympathy. We feel his fear and pain
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016
by Julie Schauer | Nov 27, 2011 | Art Appreciation: Visual Analysis, Baroque Art, Caravaggio, Georges de la Tour, Kimbell Art Museum Ft. Worth, National Gallery of Art Washington, Paintings of Deception
Valentin de Boulogne, Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice, c. 1618/20
A magnificent exhibition of Caravaggio and His Followers at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth features the Washington National Gallery of Art’s Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice by Valentin de Boulogne. The painting tells a story of deception. Caravaggio had also painted Card Sharks with fewer figures. Boulogne, a Frenchman working in Rome, may have known of his composition.
Boulogne’s painting is a tight, close-up composition with masterfully chosen areas of light. Two simultaneous episodes are taking place: dice throwing on the right and cheating card players on the left. The card sharks are the first to demand our attention, as they look startlingly real. Behind the central figure, who is in the process of cheating, another drama is happening. A man on the right looks down and covers his dice, perhaps hiding something while his adversary with the red hat seems about to erupt in anger. Although not a traditionally religious painting, Boulogne suggests two of the deadly sins, deception and anger. He warns of the hazards of gambling, exactly what these two vignettes represent.
The dice player with downcast eyes can be variously interpreted.
The sinister scene is set in a dark room. The well-dressed young man in front left is being duped by two soldiers, while two men cross behind them playing dice. The compact composition and the forceful use of diagonals heighten the tension, connecting the men who otherwise would be seen as individual character types. Colors are primarily earthy for these ruffians. But other colors fight for attention: white, scattered touches of blue clothes and the brilliant red hat in center (symbol of anger?), which is replicated in less vibrant red stockings on bottom facing the other direction.
A dark, sinister man in the upper left corner startles with his realistic presence. The details of faces come from a blog, Head for Art, May 24, 2010.
Eye movements and gestures pull us around the painting. At first glance, I am attracted to the white face and dark staring eye of the man in center (see below). His gaze goes past his competitor, to the man in shadow behind. Though the face of this man on the far left is darker than the others, his expression is so real as his fingers signal the number two (above). The shadowy compositions suggest that more than cheating is going on, something very dark, sinister and deceptive. Boulogne warns against taking chances in life. Intense light- dark contrast is a legacy of Caravaggio.
Viewers note the intensity of this soldier’s stare and his slow, careful choice of cards pulls the viewer into the story.
Caravaggio, The Fortune Teller, of 1594, comes from the Capitoline Museum of Rome. The aristocratic young man falls in love as he is being duped.
Another allegory of deception Caravaggio painted is The Fortune Teller, 1594, a startlingly realistic depiction in the Kimbell’s exhibition. An alluring young gypsy and fashionable aristocrat look at each other with an intense hold. Her face suggests she is attracted to him, or at least feigning an attraction. His puffed sleeve, puffed cheek, elbow, sway of hips and sword express confidence, but caution is thrown to the wind. As the girl reads his palm, she slyly slips off his golden ring. The viewer, captivated by the couple’s loving gaze and beautiful clothing, is also tricked. We only see this detail by close inspection. The colors are primarily earth tones, black and white.
The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, by Georges de la Tour, 1630-34. The cheat, who slyly looks at us and shows his deck, is a “shady” figure, both literally and figuratively. The shadiness of the story is in contrast to the highly polished figures and their clothes.
Georges de la Tour’s scene of card players, in the Kimbell’s own collection, rounds out these tales of deception. Some elements of The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs are familiar– its close-up view and dark background. But the colors are brilliant oranges, pinks and reds. The youngest boy will get duped, and everyone else knows they are taking advantage of him. Cheating begins with the large woman who glances sideways at the woman bringing wine, who in turn casts one eye towards the “shady” cardplayer. In shadow on the left, he holds out the cards for us to see and looks at us outside the painting, bringing the viewers into the drama. The boy on right is innocent, but flirting with a world beyond his experience. The background is completely black behind the evil threesome, while the young boy is still halfway “in the light” of the painting, midway between good and bad. He can choose to stay on the right side, both literally and figuratively.
Certain Baroque painters could visually portray situations comparable to the dramatizations of Shakespeare from the 1590s and early 1600s. Carefully calculated figure placements and compositional angles let the human drama unfold before our eyes. They moralize and forewarn viewers of evil. Caravaggio’s Fortune Teller and de la Tour’s Cheat with the Ace of Clubs also are also comedies, because the well-dressed young men, possibly aristocrats, do not realize their susceptibility to trickery.
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016
by Julie Schauer | Nov 24, 2011 | Kimbell Art Museum Ft. Worth, Martin Schongauer, Michelangelo, Printmaking, Renaissance Art
St Anthony Torment by the Demons, c. 1487, was painted by Michelangelo when he was only 13. The panel, 18 x 12 inches, is warped as happens to many panels over time.
The Torment of Saint Anthony is a small panel painting which was recently discovered to have been painted by Michelangelo in 1487/88. Intensive cleaning in 2008/9 led experts to believe that Michelangelo painted it when he was 12 or 13 years of age. Only four easel paintings by Michelangelo are known, and this one of is in North America, at Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum.
Michelangelo’s St. Anthony looks remarkably calm despite the demons who are scratching him
St. Anthony was an early Christian of the 4th century who lived as a hermit for many years. According to his biographer, the rigorous asceticism practiced by St Anthony in the Egyptian desert allowed him to float in the air, where he was attacked by devils trying to beat him to the ground. Anthony defeated these demons on more than one occasion, but not without a big struggle. It is not at all surprising that a young Michelangelo would have been attracted to this subject, because the artist always seemed to be battling his own internal demons, as the poetry he wrote and certain sculptures of slaves he made later in life would suggest.
Schongauer’s masterly engraving, St. Anthony Tormented by Demons, c. 1480, gave inspiration to the young Michelangelo
Michelangelo copied an engraving by a French-German artist, Martin Schongauer, who was Europe’s greatest practitioner of printmaking at that time. Schongauer used a vivid imagination and great technical ability to show light, shadow and texture. These beasts are composite creatures of fanciful reptiles, fish and flying monsters, who scratch, pull and club the holy man. Schongauer left the landscape minimal, a small edge of rocks in the lower right-hand corner which describe the mountain he lived on in isolation. Saint Anthony seems to be suspended in the air, in a radiating, circular composition. Schongauer used short dots or stipples to get his deepest shadows into the small metal plate used for engraving.
We don’t know the date of
Schongauer’s engraving–perhaps about 1480–but we know that his prints traveled throughout Europe. Michelangelo’s biographers said that he made a painting after a Schongauer print when he was 13, and this new attribution fulfills that void in our knowledge. This connection also shows the important role of prints in spreading artistic ideas and iconography, with the engraving passed into Italy from Germany.I have seen the Schongauer original in the print room of the National Gallery and its details are incredible. No wonder the young genius was impressed.
Although Michelangelo borrowed many details
from the great German engraver, he went to
the fish market to observe. According to the
Kimball Art Museum, Michelangelo scraped away
lines of paint in the body of the fish-like creature,
revealing the primer beneath the paint in the
parallel lines of hatching.
When Michelangelo copied Schongauer, he was equally adept at detail. He straightened Saint Anthony’s head, gave him a shorter beard and added an interesting landscape background. The brown-gray foreground is rocky and craggy, and in pristine detail. Critics of the Michelangelo attribution do not like the background. The painting has a high viewpoint just like St. Anthony who lived on a mountain near the Nile when the demons attacked and lifted him. So this landscape is a bird’s eye view of river, hills and sky with a low horizon line. Using aerial perspective, it gets more and more indistinct as it goes back into space and turns nearly white as it hits the horizon. The cool colors of the background and the low horizon line allow the figures to come forward and stand out with warm colors. This setting may be more reminiscent of the Arno in Florence than the Nile River, but European artists of the time were not familiar with the desert.
Photos above and right were taken by the Kimball to AP. This demon was painted in tempera and oil with magnificent detail. Color changes and the meticulous line technique are visible.
His mouth is ferocious.
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016