Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Too Much Color? Cy Twombly didn't think so....

In the November, 2011, issue of Artforum,  Arthur C. Danto reflects on getting to know Cy Twombly. Danto tells us in passing that Twombly felt the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel created what he called "Mannerist masterpieces." So I went back to my art books for some help. The term "Mannerist" is argued over a fair amount, but generally has come to describe a 16th-century movement, with the central painters being Bronzino, Parmigianino, and Tintoretto. Some characteristics that seem agreed-upon include:  distorted figures, small, crowded spaces and unrealistic settings  -- which create drama -- and, finally,  the Mannerist artist stresses his skill in the painting of drapery, skin, and the effects of light.

Here is a portion of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel:

When we entered the chapel, it was very difficult to see details like this. The paintings are so far away. But we did see the colors.  And that was a big change; for years, every reproduction I saw of these panels was dominated by grays and browns, shadows without light.  I remember, too, that after the work was cleaned, beginning in the 1980's, many people felt the colors were too brash, too much. But Twombly did not feel that way. So what paintings might he have compared it to?

There was a 2009 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston called "Titian~Tintoretto~Veronese:  Rivals in Renaissance Venice."  In their catalogue, the curators discuss the ways in which these artists watched one another's progress (rather in the way Picasso would come to monitor the discoveries of Matisse).  They competed for commissions.  Tintoretto painted "Miracle of the Slave" in 1548; it was his breakthrough. Here it is:

And we were worried about the colors in the Chapel? Look at this space... look at the ways in which the figures are moving... look at the backdrop (an operatic backdrop, missing only the Supertitles)... look at the gestures... the oranges, the blues... this is wonderful work... Michelangelo is in good company. I love it when one artist calls across the centuries to another.  We will miss Twombly.

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