Friday, July 09, 2004

July 9th, Friday

I went back to the Uffizi today in order to see the rest of the museum, post-Fillipo Lippi. Even that was too much to take in. Unfortunately they were understaffed and did not open the rooms with the two huge Rubens, which I have been dreaming about ever since I heard of them from Colleen.

After Charles Cecil pointed it out in his lecture last night, I could see what he called almost-gothic elements in Botticelli, particularly in the curving outline shapes of garments and figures. Botticelli always seemed to me to stand somehow outside of time in many of his paintings, and maybe this is part of the reason why. His figures are incredibly beautiful, like so much else in Italian art. There is a great emphasis on graceful rounding of forms, as in the Gothic and Renaissance in general.

I looked for a long time at the Adoration of the Magi. It looks like maybe he put in a drawing with tempera and then started painting over it in oil. Some of the tempera-like brush work looks just like some of Annigoni's marks, so I guess this is where he was studying. In fact, there is a general mood which seems to connect Annigoni to Leonardo. Perhaps it is the sense of solitude. Even Annigoni's unusual sense of composition seems influenced by Leonardo. Other similarities include their variety of activities, their obsession with solitary "research", and a dour, apocalyptic, almost misanthropic sensibility. I feel like these thoughts open a door to understanding Annigoni and Leonardo both.

Incredible portraits, although some are slightly less than human in their idealization. That was, I'm sure, wholly intentional. How can there have been so many perfect masters of technique? Not one painter today stands with any of them, really, in terms of pure mastery. There are wonderfully expressive painters now, and people whose work touches me more than some of these Renaissance masters, but really no one masters the techniques of painting like so many of these people did.

Adam and Even before eternity
A beautiful painting. God here reminds me of the God he painted creating the animals, back in Venice. That painting so much resembled the style of William Blake that if you had shown it to me in another context I would have thought William Blake was an unknown master of oil painting. This painting struck me with great sadness, though, because I can see that people believe in this story of God's extreme punishment for a childlike disobedience. It is a sad, petty vision of God and of the fall of man. The real meaning of "the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil" should be more deeply interpreted in general, rather than as a mere story of disobedience and punishment.

Other works:
There was a beautiful, tender portrait of a youth by Lorenzo Lotto. A painting by Crespi (1665-1747) stood out, a portrait of the painter Givoanni Sorbi. It felt like he was painting someone he knew well, and there was tenderness as well as a hint of humor in it.

The highlight of my day, though, was the three Rembrandts near the end of the galleries: self portrait as a young man, portrait of an old man, and a later self-portrait. I spent hours making a rough drawing of the old man's hands, which are typical of Rembrandt's loose, abstract way of vividly capturing reality. He is rough and delicate at the same time. His technique, as staggering and tremendous as it is, seems to bow down before playfulness and spontaneity, making them its masters. What a master of masters. What humanity and mortality in his work. He seems to say, "for all this I am a man, and life and death outdo us." I love the way he paints hands.


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