Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Comment on "Unexpected Theatricality" *Post

Paul Sullivan's comment on my "Unexpected Theatricality" post is so good, and well written, I didn't want it to get lost -- so I'm posting it below:

The bird's cute, Charles. It looks like a Casio keyboard made for Fred Flintstone.

About the suggested decoration of the Parthenon marbles, I have to disagree. I buy the gaudiness, but not the busyness of the design.

The sculptures' theatrically broad gestures are designed to play clearly to a well-sited, but necessarily distant viewer (a couple hundred ft, I'd think, to mitigate foreshortening). The amount of painted detail shown here at best would have been undiscernible and at worst would have obscured the comprehension of the figures.

It's also quite possible that the statues were re-painted yearly as a way to excite and surprise the "same, old" crowds. This amount of detail might have been unnecessarily expensive.
I like what you have to say about the Last Supper as proscenium stage. I've always wondered about the disconnect between da Vinci's desire to push the illusion of real space and the space he actually depicted. The refectory is a narrow, tall room with a vaulted ceiling, and yet, da Vinci's space is classical and boxy with a flat, coffered ceiling. The mismatch makes no sense unless da Vinci wanted to evoke a "staging" of the Last Supper. If he had tried to continue the architecture of the refectory into the painting as if the Last Supper was taking place in the refectory, the church authorities might well have objected. The observant cannot be participants, only viewers.

The refectory as a theater doesn't seem a stretch. The power of da Vinci's illusion may thus be felt fully with no ambivalence. The brothers witness a re-enactment at each meal just as prayers are offered anew at each meal.

I am fascinated by that uneasy line in Renaissance and Baroque art on the proper place for Patrons in the artwork they financed of religious figures and events. They may be shown, but only on the periphery, allowed to witness, unremarked by the halo'ed. I always liked the obstreperous Cornaro clan, though, doing their best to upstage the Ecstasy of St Theresa.

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini for the Cornaro Chapel of

Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

Side detail of The Ecstasy of St. Teresa

One could be cast in a supporting role such as Michelangelo portraying Nicodemis in his Florentine Pieta 50 years later. I am always kind of shocked how conspicuously Nicodemis/Michangelo's bare hand grabs hold of the bare arm of the fallen Christ with no cloth in between as iconographical decorum warrants.
Michelangelo, The Deposition ("The Florentine Pieta") c. 1550

I'm curious where you go next with these ideas. This is a good opening. The Greenaway is beautiful.

fyi, this is a link to see the room virtually. I never knew there was another painting at the other end.

thanks for making me think.

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