Saturday, February 02, 2013

Caravaggio and Bernini:
The Stillness at the Center

I know it is vain foolishness to name a "favorite artist," but I suppose if pressed I would have to name Caravaggio.   I suppose there are any number of good reasons but a lot of them are subsumed in Michael Fried's notion of the moment(s) of "immersion:" when, to put it inadequately, Caravaggio's  subjects experience the bolt of understanding, the moment that shows them that their lives will never be the same again: Judith to take just a single example, almost as horrified at her violent outburst as Holofernes himself  (in his index, Fried gives four lines to the subject of "decapitation," with a cross reference to "severing.").

Pushing absurdity on absurdity, if I had to name a second "favorite artist," the choice might fall on Bernini, not quite Caravaggio's contemporary but another product of the brilliant, perilous, anarchic world of counter-reformation Rome--and, like Caravaggio, himself a nasty piece of business.   I admit I have never really thought about any possible comparison before but reading an instructive review of a remarkable new biography I can face to face with a point of engagement so obvious I can't see how you can evade it.   That is: in Bernini at his most typical, we also see the life-changing moment: St Theresa in rapture, Daphne as she evades the clutches of Apollo, Longinus confronting the Son of God.

The drama, the dynamism of course, but also the eerie stillness at the center, the moment of equipoise,  Or maybe I am just describing what we mean by "the baroque."

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