Caravaggio’s Innovations in the Art World.
Caravaggio’s works have long influenced many different arts. His naturalist ideas clearly served to move away from former art movements. Caravaggio worked to avoid idealization and thus make subjects more relatable. Most of his subjects looked like everyday people that anyone could relate to. Caravaggio often achieved this through the use of strong lighting and high contrast. Caravaggio usual focused on telling stories through his art. One article describes his style as, “Although chiaroscuro was used long before Caravaggio came onto the art scene it was he who defined the technique and darkened the shadows. The artist's observation of physical and psychological reality strengthened his popularity but caused problems with his religious assignments.” (Brown)
This focus on story telling is also evident in Artemesia Gentileschi’s painting “Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes”. Like Caravaggio the artist uses lighting and contrast to bring emphasis to the figures. The women are realistic looking with correct anatomy and are not idealized beauties. In the portrait the maid seems just as important as the richer woman and they both wear modest clothes and similar expressions. Wealth doesn’t seem to be an important influence in this piece. Both of the women are not posed, and their body language suggests that they are worried about something. Both are focused on the same problem at hand.
Rembrandt’s painting “The Night Watch, also shows Caravaggio’s influence. Especially due to the lighting in the piece. “The Night Watch” is a painting of musketeers commissioned but done in a way to depict a sense of history and adventure. Like Caravaggio, Rembrandt moves way from formal portraits. The dramatic lighting and contrast is used to draw attention to the main figure in the painting. The light is focused on the central figures in the painting. The main subject is motioning to the other men and creates a sense of movement that is also indicative to Caravaggio’s art. This painting best shows the use of churasco, or darkening of shadows.
In Jacques Louis David’s “The Oath of the Horatii”, the artist uses pose to tell a story. The lighting is centered on the Roman soldiers as women wait nearby awaiting their decision. The women are huddled on the ground and look very distressed. The women represent the naturalistic aspect as they are shown in a natural pose. The red of the cape draws attention to the central figure. The lighting is not as dramatic in this piece as it often is in Caravaggio’s. Instead Jacques Louis David uses line to point to the focal point. The bodies, sword and even the architecture help him achieve this effect without the need for extreme lighting and contrast. The painting is also more symmetrical and balanced than some of the other pieces discussed in this paper.
Francisco de Goya’s “The Third of May” depicts the horrors of war through storytelling. Goya’s subjects in “The Third of May” are the rebel fighters who lost their lives as a result of Spanish execution. Light and dark is very important in the piece and is symbolic of war itself. The action appears spontaneous and is highly emotional. The main figure is clearly scared with his hands thrown up while he awaits execution. The soldiers have their back to the viewer, perhaps to present a cold, emotionless façade and also the coldness of war. Those being executed are shown within the only lighted area of the painting; the rest are in the contrasting darkness the dark background and lighter focal point it indicative of Caravaggio’s style. The painting style differs from that of Caravaggio as it is less realistic in both anatomy, color, and style. The brush strokes are looser and more expressive than the controlled and blended brush stroke of Caravaggio. This adds to the mood of the piece but takes away from the sense of realism. Caravaggio typically went for a more realistic and anatomically correct style. The influence of Caravaggio can be seen in many pieces of art, however it has also be expanded on and new techniques explored, he was able to use the principals of art but take them to a more extreme fashion. Caravaggio focused on make subjects more naturalistic and relatable to everyday people. He used both regular everyday people along with more famous subjects without discrimination. No longer did he find idealization important to art. The strong use of light and contrast was also used in his work.
Even landscape can be subject to idealization. Sometimes instead of creating scenery as one truly sees it, some artists decided to make a more utopian environment in their artwork.
This utopian ideal can be seen in Antoine Watteau’s painting “Pilgrimage to Cythera”. The landscape is meant to be decorative and ideal with dense trees, mountains and streams. The colors are not very realistic especially the trees and grass. The sky is a bright blue creating a calm setting. There doesn’t appear to be anything out of place in this environment, nothing to make it seem more real. All of the figures look wealthy and happy. The colors within the piece are not that intense, creating a softness. Everyone looks relaxed and like they are having a good time in their environment. The colors are both warm and cool. The painting is not the highly detailed in terms of the environment. The humans are more detailed than the plants. The lines of the river connect the foreground and the background. The people seen to be rich and idealized. The cherubs add to the utopian environment. Their outfits are elaborate and many drapes and soft curving lines are visible typical of Baroque style.
In Ruisdale’s painting, “Bleaching Grounds near Haarlem”, landscape painting is shown in a realistic fashion. It is not ideal like the other landscape. The painting shows the land with all its flaw. The colors are much more realistic and detailed than the colors of “Pilgrimage To Cynthera”. The painting had more earth tone colors. The lighting is also more shadowy than “Pilgrimage to Cynthera” The sky is also but not as bright as the other painting. The use of water also move the eye to the focal point of the buildings. There are no people but if there were one would postulate that they would be more common than the wealthy picnic goers in the other place. Everything is more worn and old looking in this painting The horizon line is very straight and the rows of crops very vertical. Overall the differences between these landscapes lie in the fact that one is utopian one is realistic.
“The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” and “Triumph of the Name of Jesus”
In Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture “The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” emotion is used to express piety. The emotion shown in the face of the figure contributes to the drama more than anything else. The woman appears to be in distress as she looks upward towards the angel. Her expression is very dramatic, her eyes appear to be rolled back and she crouches below the angel. The elaborate draping of her outfit also adds to the sense of drama. She looks as if she is looking to God for assistance thus creating a story of God’s help. The religious message shows that one should look to God for assistance. Her visions are described as, “Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.” This intense emotion is conveyed through her body language and expression within the statue. The church also makes it more theatrical with the use of the wall to look like rays of light from heaven falling on Saint Theresa,
Giovanni Battista Gaulli and Bernini’s “Triumph of the Name of Jesus” uses illusion to express space. Painted on the ceiling of a church, “Triumph of the Name of Jesus” is meant to make viewers feels as if they are under heaven. The painting was meant to inspire others to be more religious and remind them that heaven is above them. This is achieved through the use of perspective. The clouds and sky with angels coming out of them conjure images of heaven, the vaulted ceiling gave the illusion as if the biblical figures were looking down at the congregation while they worshiped (Gombrich). Each scene, painted for the decoration of this Chapel, is executed with bright colors assisting in making all the detail clearly visible from the Chapel’s floor. Foreshortening in the figures make them appear more realistic despite their idealized beauty. Each figure is a fine example of Gaulli’s knowledge of anatomy with a sense of ideal beauty. One can only imagine how special it would have been to worship under such a powerful painting. These stories are illustrated so that the viewer can get an understanding of the biblical stories Gaulli has depicted. Without prior knowledge of the story or the ability to read, this group of paintings could be understood by the ignorant and yet still powerful and moving to the most knowledgeable of society. The perspective of the painting looks as if the viewer is looking directly into heaven, this illusion creating a powerful effect.
Velázquez's Las Meninas
Velázquez’s artwork “Las Meninas” is unique in that it shows a scene of a painter working in their everyday environment. It depicts both a process and a finished work in essence. The figures are not posed yet but all eyes go towards the young girl in the white dress because of the converging lines and eye lines of the characters. The characters are natural it looks as if the viewer just stepped into the room. The artist’s canvas can be seen to one side of the painting and it looks as if the art is in progress. The family looks to be an upper class one that is preparing to get ready to have their portrait painted. This painting is interesting in that it is a realistic portrayal of what is to be an idealized event. Overall Velázquez’s painting “Las Meninas shows and attempt to end strict rules within art and still create a beautiful piece of art. The artist creates an off center composition that is not posed and appears to be taking place as an artist prepares to paint. It chronicles the process and challenges of being an artist. The painting has many things to look at but is not overly ornate. The use of servants and the appearance of the artist himself within the painting shows that not just royal families are worthy of being painted. This painting gives a better glimpse into royal life than a stiff formal portrait ever could.