Saturday, April 21, 2012

Caravaggio and David

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Comparing and contrasting two artists as talented as Caravaggio and David is not an easy feat. Each artist was known for doing extraordinary things in their time. Both their techniques and styles will live on in the art world forever.

Caravaggio and David both have a distinct style that holds them apart from other painters. Each had there own way of representing the subject to the fullest. In this essay I will compare and contrast four paintings Caravaggio’s the calling of Saint Matthew and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew and David’s The Death of Socrates and the Death of Marat.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the artist, Michelangelo Merisi (called Caravaggio), began to paint in a manner that was at once new and exciting as well as echoing the best of the Renaissance Masters who had come before. Few artists in history have exercised as extraordinary an influence as this tempestuous and short-lived painter.

Jacques-Louis David was a French painter. He was a supporter of the French Revolution and one of the leading figures of Neoclassicism. David spent six years in Rome. It was during this period (1775-81), that he abandoned the grand manner of his early work, with its Baroque use of lighting and composition for a stark, highly finished and morally didactic style. This was influenced by the ideas then current in Rome (Winckelmann) and by artists such as Hamilton who were already experimenting with a neoclassical idiom. During the French Revolution, David played an active role both artistically he reorganized the Acad�me and produced numerous and spectacular propaganda exercises - and politically, as an avid supporter of Robespierre, who voted for the execution of the king. He also attempted to catalogue the new heroes of the age, abortively and successfully in his pieta-like portrayal of the Death of Marat (17, Brussels, Mus�e Royaux).

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Each painting has a type of story behind it. It is up to the viewer, to construct his or her own opinion about it.

Caravaggio represented the event in The Calling of Matthew as a nearly silent, dramatic narrative. I feel this way because everybody appears to be still in the divine presence of God. The dramatic point of the picture is that for this moment, no one does anything. Christs appearance is so unexpected and His gesture is so commanding as to suspend action for a shocked instant, before reaction can take place. On the other hand, in the death of Socrates, David is able to catch the chaos of the moment. At this moment everybody is reacting to the soon to be death of their dear friend Socrates. Socrates’ “friends” or callegs seem to be distraught as they fumble around the room trying grasp the concept of Socrates’ wish to die.

Furthermore, the lighting of a certain scene is also very important to the story as well as atmosphere. Both artists use a similar type of lighting. The light depicted is harsh in some areas yet others are cloaked in shadow. In The Calling of St. Matthew the group is lit from a source at the upper right of the painting and the rest of the room is in shadow. The light has been no less carefully manipulated the upper light, to illuminate Saint Matthews face and the seated group; and the light behind Christ and Saint Peter, introduced only with them. It may be that this third source of light is intended as miraculous. Otherwise, why does Saint Peter cast no shadow on the defensive youth facing him? These are all questions for the viewer.

I see the same effect in David’s painting The Death of Socrates. The light in this image comes from the upper left and shines on Socrates and his crew. There is also a distinct type of lighting in David’s The Death of Marat. Here we see a harsh light protruding in from the left hand side as if someone is either entering or leaving the room.

Color is also an important aspect of a painting; it can set a mode or give a feeling. A brighter set of colors can give the illusion of warmth and darker colors can make a piece feel cold and unhappy. In The Death of Socrates Caravaggio chose more vivid color to give a chaotic feeling. For instance the colors are all toned down and almost neutral looking in The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. It gives this painting a feeling of worry. The colors in peoples clothing can give clues as to who they are or what they do. For instance Jesus is crowned in a golden hallow. This shows that he is divine. There are really not any other golden colors in the painting other then the light, which also gives a heavenly feeling.

There are also several symbols in each of these for paintings. In St. Matthew Christ has his eyes veiled, with His halo the only hint of divinity. The two figures on the left, derived from a 1545 Hans Holbein print seem to represent gamblers unaware of the appearance of Death, are so concerned with counting the money that they do not even notice Christs arrival; symbolically their inattention to Christ deprives them of the opportunity He offers for eternal life, and condemns them to death.

In David’s the Death of Marot the symbol lies in the piece of paper in Marats hand. The letter symbolizes the ruthlessness of his killing, because he was murdered while receiving this letter.

The figures in the each painting have certain characteristics that make them extraordinary. The figures in the death of Socrates and in The Martyrdom of St. Matthew have similar features. They have an almost Roman statue trait to them. In the Death of Socrates, Socrates is in perfect shape. His body is toned and lean. We also see this in some of the figures in he Martyrdom of St. Matthew.

The other two paintings show the people depicted in a more realistic fashion. Their bodies actually have flaws to them. Not everything about them is perfect. Both artists left room for flaws, but not by accident. I think they were trying to depict the actual image of an everyday person.

In conclusion all four of these paintings have very similar aspects to them, yet they differ in several ways. I think it is all in the opinion of the viewer. Caravaggio and David are from different times, but have the same basis in all of there paintings.

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