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Friday, 2 August 2013

Intermission, part 4

The narrative began with Act 1, scene 1 on April 10, 2013.
To access all scenes, scroll to blog archive at the bottom of the page.

This intermission attempts to track the connected artistic 'lineage' of some influential painters, from the early 15th century to the present. To follow this thread and to see all images mentioned, 
go back to part 1 of this intermission.

El Greco, a native of Crete, then part of the Venetian Republic,  moved to Venice in about 1567 where he apparently studied under the aged Titian. El Greco's work was strongly influenced by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese (as was the work of Velazquez, as we have seen). In 1570 El Greco moved to Rome, where the work of Michelangelo and the Mannerist painters impressed and influenced him, regardless what we know of the criticism El Greco is said to have directed toward Michelangelo's talent as a painter. He was particularly fond of the paintings of Parmigianino and Correggio. In 1577 he moved to Toledo in Spain.

El Greco's influence will skip a few generations of painters, and then re-emerge in the work of Manet, Cezanne, Picasso and others. (See Act 1, scene 9).

Staying in Spain however, Francesco de Goya (30 March 1746 – 16 April 1828), who incidentally had also travelled to Rome, picks up the thread of Venetian painting (as had El Greco) through Velazquez whose work he admired. His painting of King Charles was directly based on an earlier Velazquez. 

Francesco de Goya, King Charles III as a Huntsman, 1786/88

Velazquez, Cardinal Infante Don Fernando as a Hunter, 1632-33

With Goya, and the closing of the 18th century, we are about to enter one of those periods in the history of art, when artistic triumphs were often tied to political events. It might be argued that all three of the major movements of painting in the 20th century have their roots in this period. In over-simplified terms, these three movements could be described as (a) art that is logical and orderly, or (b) emotional and chaotic, or (c) a kind of inquiry into the realm of psychology. It would be a gross distortion to suggest that these three artistic directions were always mutually exclusive, as we shall see.

As well, it is indisputable that, as we more nearly approach the present day, documentation of all sorts is more readily available to those who look for it. Less time has passed when letters, works of art, oral history and other documents might have been lost or destroyed. One consequence of this wealth of information is that more evidence is available to those who disagree over the interpretation of events, biographical details, stylistic and technical aspects of visual art, etcetera. Documents can be found to support many points of view. Mine is just one.

With that disclaimer, back to Goya.

Political events toward the end of the 18th century were born of The EnlightenmentPhilosophers of the time – Spinoza, Locke, Newton, and others had great faith in the power of logic. In France, logic dictated that the French people should free themselves from the tyranny of monarchy, just as the Americans had done in 1776. A number of prominent French revolutionaries had aided the Americans in that struggle, among them, General Lafayette (Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette), who had hoped to establish in France a constitutional monarchy similar to that in Great Britain – a government responsive to the needs of ordinary French people, still retaining a monarch as its titular head of state. The ideal gave way to a less logical and more emotional series of events by the time of Robespierre. His Reign of Terror (1793-94) may have been rationalized as logical, but the manifestation of what Robespierre claimed as logical was an extremely emotional bloodbath. Discussion and debate within a legislative body may be seen as logic in practice, but political instability, famine, war, and mass executions are indeed emotional for those affected. France suffered through all of these conditions around the time of the revolution, which began in earnest in 1789.

In 1789 Goya was comfortably salaried as the the court painter to the Spanish royal family of Charles IV. Soon however, he would be deeply affected by the unrest that spilled from the borders of France, throughout Europe.