Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 35

Veronese, "Cupid with Two Dogs," ca. 1581. Oil on canvas, 39" x 53."

This is another picture from the Venetian Renaissance exhibit at the MFA in Boston that left me so thunderstruck. I was taken with this painting for two reasons: firstly, Veronese decided to paint the dogs' heads in a value so close to the ground that they very nearly disappear into it. Conversely, the sharp contrast of black and white in their bodies brings them right up to the picture plane. These spatial effects are not perspectival - they're all about varying degrees of value contrast. This, to me, is a hallmark of Venetian Renaissance painting; the creation of space through color contrast as opposed to receding lines of perspective, something the Florentine painters were so obsessed with. The special bonus of painting space in this way is that it simultaneuosly creates that hazy, unmistakably Venetian atmosphere.

The other interesting aspect is the two very different styles in which Veronese painted the dogs and Cupid. The picture was made in the waning days of the High Renaissance, known as the Mannerist period, and just before the full onset of the Baroque. The Cupid clearly looks back at the Renaissance, in which the Greek ideal still loomed large - people were painted to match up with a Platonic ideal of that person's age, gender, role, and station, and not to look like a specific individual you might see on the street. The dogs, on the other hand, are clearly painted from life, an idea that would hit full stride with Caravaggio and reach its zenith with Velazquez at the height of the Baroque period.