Blackpaint 239


Mantegna

I’m back in the Uffizi catalogue today, looking at two works by the above:  The Madonna of the Rocks and the Adoration of the Magi triptych.  The latter was apparently not conceived as a triptych, but was put together later.  It consists of the Adoration, the Ascension (of Christ) and the Circumcision.

I’m always impressed by Mantegna’s hard, chiselled edges, the paint sculpted to give a relief effect at times; that, and his vivid, somehow cold colours that remind me of the Northern painters of the Netherlands.

The Madonna pre-dates Leonardo’s two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks (1493-5 and 1506-8); the Uffizi guide gives 1488-90 for the Mantegna, which was painted in Rome.  I wonder if Leonardo knew the painting, and whether “on the rocks” was a common setting or theme?  It seems rather a coincidence otherwise.

Mantegna’s virgin looks particularly doleful, whilst the pasty, pudgy faced Christ actually looks dead to me (I panicked a lot when my kids were young).  This dead look chimes rather with the tomb “visible below – an allusion to Christ’s sepulchre and a prediction of the destiny of the Child (sic) lying in the Virgin’s lap”, as the guide puts it.

The Adoration is a strange picture – sharply drawn against a cold, darkening blue sky, it features a circlet of those little putti, I think they’re called – winged half -babies, pinky red on the left, stone coloured on the right, surrounding the virgin and child as if mounted on a Christmas tree behind them.  A star – THE star – is set amongst four grown-up angels, immediately above the cave; the stable, presumably.  The tail of the star drops a perpendicular tail to the mother and baby, and there is a black, thread-like line, possibly a crack, dropping from the top of the picture down to the Magi.  the effect is that of grappling hooks and lines being lowered from heaven.

The Ascension also features a circlet of putti, all red this time, their little wings powering Christ’s ascent on a small round tablet of rock.   As he goes up, he grasps the pole of the red cross standard, like a boy scout on Church Parade.   A group of disciples gaze up at him, as well they might.

Cezanne

I’m very struck by the varying attraction of Cezanne’s paintings in the Phaidon book by Catherine Dean.  For me, they range from nothing much (Bay of Marseilles, seen from l’Estaque, Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffon, building at Jas de Bouffon, Dr. Gachet’s House) to staggering (Lac d’Annecy, some Mont St. Victoires, Card Players, Boy in Red Waistcoat – with the really long right arm – the Still Lifes with apples and/or peaches and the fantastic Blue Vase).

The one that caught my attention today was “A Modern Olympia” – rather comical, cartoonish, especially the black servant whipping away the white sheet to reveal the naked woman, her legs scrunched up in front of her for modesty, before the upward gaze of the bearded, seated gentleman visitor – Cezanne himself?  Particularly striking, I thought, was the difference between this and all the other repros in the book.  I would never have guessed Cezanne.  The colours and the looseness of the brush strokes, as if the images were almost on the verge of disintegration, called to mind Cecily Brown – if only for a moment.

Rauschenberg

Cezanne’s picture is a “modernisation” of Manet’s 1863 Olympia, of course; I happened to come across Rauschenberg’s “Odalisque”, 1955-9, presumably another modernisation.  A stuffed white rooster stands atop an easel(?) on which is a colourful Rausch collage, topped by a small picture of a naked woman seated on the floor – looks like Marilyn, but I can’t quite make it out.

Fish Eye

Blackpaint

05.01.10

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