Sunday, August 01, 2004

August 1, Sunday--Rome

We went to the Villa Borghese today and to the Galleria Doria Pamphilj.

The statues by Bernini were incredible. He is the opposite of Michelangelo, whose sculpture has an unbelievable solidity and weight. Bernini's is unbelievably light. His David as well as his Daphne and Apollo, all seem like living figures ready to jump or fly. I have never seen such mobility and physical lightness in stone sculptures. The cloth of Apollo's greek garment furls behind him with an astonishing suggestion of movement. The leaves are incredibly finely-wrought, although I've been told that these were not Bernini's work, but that of an assistant, whom Bernini would not let have the credit for the work.

After seeing a number of Bernini's and some other baroque works, a room containing 6 paintings by Caravaggio restored my sense of classical balance and proportion. I don't know what period of painting he is supposed to belong to, but Caravaggio has not gotten away from simplicity and balance between the inward and the outward, between activity and inner life. I feel that his work generally has a solidity that allows me to move inward with it.

His self-portrait dressed as Bacchus seems so revealing and personal. He seems trapped in a box in this composition. His face is youthful and yet aged. There is vulnerability in his look, and sensuality.

Upstairs I saw a wonderful painting by Lukas Cranach the elder, Venus with Cupid eating a honeycomb and getting stung by bees. The bees seem to trouble him, but not enough that his attention and his fingers are not still on the honeycomb! Says something about love, I think.

One painting by Giovanni Bellini was a Madonna and Child, typical in its utter beauty. From across the room this work is incredibly strong. I feel that Bellini was really one of the greatest painters that ever lived. I will go to Vicenza to see his Baptism of Jesus.

Titian's Venus blindfolding Cupid and his Christ Flogged provided me with a revelation. There is an energetic reality to Titian's painting. They are literally painted beyond physical appearance, they have a kind of chi- or prana-energy of their own. People speak of his psychological realism, but I think it's more like energetic reality, a thing that is literally alive.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj

two early Caravaggios, Penitent Magdalene, in which she is asleep with her head tilted sideways and slightly down, and Rest During the Flight Into Egypt, both show lighter, less dramatic color, with middle, warm shadows. graceful, less realistic than his later work

Titian's Salome with the Head of John the Baptist beautifully balanced, classical ecstasy. Classical poised was poorly imitated by most neoclassicists in the 19th century, who made their works stiff. Classicism means movement, I think. The right poise allows energy to move within the work, renewing itself constantly. Baroque and mannerist artists lose this poise because they want to show movement, but it is a movement that spends itself and has nothing more to give.

This early Titian still has the feeling of being alive, even though it is not a later work.

benvenuto tisi, called garofalo (ferrara 1481 1559) "visitation" this work is very beautiful. there is a venetian color, and the composition overlaps figures and faces in the margins on the left and right, which I often like, as when Giotto does it with the faces in between the heads of Jesus and Judas in the scene in Gethsamene from the scrovegni chapel frescoes.

Hans Memling (1440-1494) had a deposition scene that was moving and yet somehow very staged, as if these characters were told to hold these poses on a stage in order for the audience to contemplate the scene.

There were also two wonderful paintings by Quinten Massys in this museum. Two Old Men in Prayer and a scene with two moneylenders and two other men, perhaps borrowers, or a borrower and an agent of some sort. In both cases there is a wonderful care taken with the rendering of surfaces, of coins, hands, wrinkles, and faces especially. There is also an amazing way that the figures interact and express themselves with gestures. This is a great painter I have never noticed before.

The real highlights of the museum for me were Raphael's Double Portrait and Velazquez' portrait of Pope Innocent x.

The Raphael is an intensely powerful work- the farther away, the clearer its power and mystery became. This may be my favorite Raphael. The green background is so strong with the black of the costumes.

Innocent X doesn't look like he deserves his name! What an incredible painting, though. You seem to feel this man exactly as if he were in the room. Again, as with titian this morning, I felt that this was life before me, not a metaphor for life, or a picture of it. To see something this way, instead of seeing it as a purely material phenomenon, opens you to a different kind of relationship with the world, a different kind of experience.

The drapery of the pope's cape is painted a bit like El Greco.


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