Monday, June 30, 2008

Carivaggio: the master of realism, architect of modern painting

A study of the Carivaggio masterpiece, Death of the Virgin finished in 1606, scanned out of my sketchbook from a day at the Louvre.

One of the things that our two weeks in Europe can be seen as was the complete reeducation of myself when it came to art history. Sadly, art students usually have to form our opinions on the "major" works from postage stamp sized reproductions in Janson, or faded slides or low rez graphics on the internet. It is, and always has been, another thing to see the pieces in the flesh as it were. While I've been to Italy and the Vatican Museum, there is no substitute for going to the British Museum, the D'Orsay and the Louvre in a small span of time. It is a gut wrenching, heartbreaking and altogether inspiring trip as an artist.

It makes for a complete reassessment of paintings and sculptures that you thought you knew. How awesome to stand mere feet from the other Da Vincis in the Louvre, and how crushing to realize how much more you like some of the other works? Follow the hall down, past the Rafaels, which vary dramatically in size, and some face to face with Carivaggio's magnificent painting, "Death of the Virgin".

This was a dramatic departure from the earlier works by painters with his skills. They tended to pretty up and encode a level of storytelling through, what can appear now, as rather arch figures. In "Death of the Virgin", we have the astonishing skill of a painting master not given to trifles but to realism: Mary is given swollen ankles, as a woman of her station, with a lifetime of work behind her, would have, and lacks the ever important plate on her head. It is the death scene of an old woman, with all the attendant grief, but it is truly the death scene of a woman, not a mother of the child of god who will soon be assended. The grief of a woman in the lower right of the piece floored me, and I worked up the above sketch while standing in the hallway, beset by other tourists. A small price to pay to get quality time with the first Baroque painter of his age.

The Louvre is, by far, the most amazing museum in the world. Bar none. The work is astonishing. It is also, as a space, beautiful to behold. That the pyramid as gotten so much flack is beyond me. Gotta go rent Da Vinci code just to see the shots now.

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