ARTYFACTS: Carravagio & Rembrandt - Amsterdam

Friday, January 12, 2007

Carravagio & Rembrandt - Amsterdam

One of the wonders of low cost air travel is the ability to pop over to see an exhibition or two in another country. Five of us, Gil, I, Jackie, Miguel and Ken took the opportunity to visit the Carravagio/Rembrandt show in Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in the Hague. Great few days.

Carravagio Rembrandt - a comparison
The Van Gogh Museum has this great encounter between the two geniuses of 17th century Baroque painting: Rembrandt and Caravaggio. This was the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth and what better present than his 'chiaroscuro' mate Carravagio. In these two north and south unite, and although they never met.they are the two masters of the Baroque. Galleries tend to group paintings by geography so you never see comparative displays, yet these two belong next to each other more than they do their contemporaries.

What was more interesting to spot were the differences. Carravagio is never a portrait painter even when painting protraits and his figures are much more 3D, much fuller. He is also, usually, far more dramatic in composition.

Game on
Let's play it straight and see who wins the comparative game. I'll choose a win or draw for each pair.

The Rape of Ganymede
Omnio vincent Amor
Both break with tradition, but sorry but Caravagio wins hands down this one with his outrageously, homoerotic, rentboy image that looks as though it belongs to some sordid and illegal internet site. Framed in a gallery it looks so innocent but it ain't. It's a young boy thrusting his cock at you the viewer. And look at his face!

A schoolboy at his desk
A boy bitten by a lizard
Again, it's Carravagio. There's so much more going on. Nature bites back and the sphere's herald the end of Renaissance religious domination - science is in the air.

Portrait of Wten Bogaert
Portrait of Martelli
It's a draw on this one. Here the Reformation meets Catholicism. Who would you rather be the Maltese Knight or mthe merchant? The Martelli painting is a good example of a painting that looks so compeltely different when seen for real. The cross on his tunic is nothing more than some broad brush strokes to give the impression of silk, yet in reproduction looks much more carefully painted

Belsharrar's Feast
The Supper at Emmaus
Carravagio for me. Belsharrar is too melodramatic.

The Jewish Bride
Conversion of Magdalen
Carravagio has caught everyone in the spell of the moment but Rembrandt wins. The relationship between father and daughter is touching. Carravagio's is having to rely on symbolism.

The Blinding of Samson
Judith and Holofernes
Carravagio wins again. Rembrant paints intent, Carravagio action. Never scared of showing blood on his knives, Carravagio paints the gore and the painting is in close-up. It fills the entire frame so there is absolutely no intention of hiding anything.

Bathsheba Bathing
St Jerome Writing
A late goal by Rembrandt. The casual, realistic nude beats the saintly pose. This rather arbitrary comparison between a nude woman and saint doesn't really work.

The Holy Family
The Holy Family
A Carravagio win. Same subject but carravagio makes Jesus the lead and Mary looks you the viewer in the eye. Rembrandt has a more tarditional, family composition, although Mary's breasts seem to dominate the image.

Abraham's Sacrafice
Abraham's Sacrafice
Rembrandt win. The exposed throat and falling knife show more. Although I like the way Carravagio's angel is off camera, as angels should be.

The denial of St peter
The betrayal of Christ
Carravagio wins. His composition and depiction of betrayal is much stronger.

Boy with basket of fruit
Carravagio gives us two paintings in one, the boy and the fruit basket. He was a great still life painter and the boy's flshy come-on, with his shirt down over his shoulder is beautifully contrasted with fleshy fruit - some decaying, of course.


The penitent Magdalen
An injury time goal by Rembrandt. Carravagio prefers the dynamic of a group whereas Rembrandt is bettter at solitary inner thoughts.

I may be a northern calvinist but it was always going to be carravagio!


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