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The evolution of portraiture

Before watching the exhibition, the first thing to see is the introduction of the city. A few minutes-long city pictures flashed on the screen, and the words “Google” map appeared below the screen, which made people think of the magic of Google Maps. Aim at a place, click, and the topography and geography of that place are immediately displayed in front of your eyes, as if you were there. The city of Bergamo shows a handsome figure in Google’s wide-angle lens, giving you a feeling of overlooking. The city is built on a mountain, and the high and low hills endow the building complex with a sense of hierarchy. But at the same time, the style is so harmonious, the roof is almost all red, and the appearance is almost old-fashioned. Classical is a kind of living and native here. Looking over the city from the top of a church in Florence many years ago, I saw this red. Later, I saw the introduction that the city has remained unchanged for 400 years, and then there are a lot of texts about the slow life of small Italian towns circulating on the Internet. So subjectively, Bergamo is probably a place that should be classified as such a slow life. The small town is in northern Italy with a population of more than 120,000, but it is actually a very modern area in the Lombardy region. I wonder if Google Maps can also show the tension between modern and classical?

However, from the Carrara Institute’s exhibition at One Bund in Shanghai, we can experience the progress of modernity, or in academic terms, it is the embodiment of modernity. Count Giacomo Carrara’s legacy in the 18th century was an art collection, which was later turned into a pavilion and later established the Accademia di Belle Arti, with paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries, including La Works of great celebrities such as Phil, Bellini, Titian, Botticelli, etc. This “moving exhibition” in Shanghai includes works by Raphael, Bellini, Titian and Rubens. Although only one or two works under the names of these great painters are exhibited, they can be seen at close range. Staring at those works, comprehending the history and culture behind the colors, as well as the colorful stories one by one, is really satisfying, not to mention that there are more than 50 other fine and authentic works to accompany them. They outline the historical process from the Renaissance to 19th-century Western portraiture (and a small amount of landscape painting), from which the footprints of modernity can also be seen, which is mainly reflected in the changes in the style of portraiture.

Raphael’s “Saint Sebastian” is the early work of this talented painter. There is a halo on the figure’s head, indicating the relationship with the “sacred”, and the religious meaning is so vivid on the paper, which is in line with his work. Some portraits of the Virgin are in the same line. More consistent is the meticulous portrayal of the characters’ expressions: gloomy and full of saints’ faces, the colors are soft, slightly dimmed, and they accentuate an air of sadness. The saint held an arrow in his hand, indicating the process of persecution, but the arrow did not penetrate deeply into the body, but was held lightly in the hand, similar to the Cupid’s arrow in ancient Greek mythology, and The gesture of the orchid finger is even more thought provoking. The meaning of “people” in the Renaissance should be very prominent in this painting. Stories and histories derived from Christian deeds are still prevalent in paintings from that period, but the distinction between man and God begins to emerge and becomes more apparent. Bellini’s Madonna and Child is one such example. Both the Virgin and the Son are lifelike and realistic, but the Son’s eyes don’t seem worthy of a baby, more like the eyes of a revelator. In the painting, the Virgin is wearing blue clothes. It is said that this blue pigment was difficult to collect at that time, and it was only available in Afghanistan, so it was more expensive than gold, so it was perfect to wear it on the Virgin. This blue color can also be seen in another painting of the Virgin and Child by another artist, but in a painting called “The Nursing Portrait of the Virgin”, the Virgin’s costume is dark, and it seems that there is less Holy, but closer to the life of ordinary people. The meaning of modernity begins to show its subtlety here.

Bellini was the founder of the Venetian school, and Bergamo was under the control of a once-prominent Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries. Portrait painting was popular among the nobility at that time, which should probably be a symbol of status. It was envisaged that a painter could be hired (at that time, there was probably no “painter”, only a person who painted, like a craftsman) to paint a portrait of himself. It can honor the present and pass it on to future generations. Who has the financial resources for ordinary people? Portraits of aristocrats have their own style, with grim, restrained, or dignified faces, which is the norm. Antonio Pisano’s “Portrait of Lionello de Este” is a masterpiece of the Renaissance, is it also a style setter? Although it is only a profile, it is enough to convey a majestic look. A portrait of a saint from the same period is also a profile, and the expressions of the characters on the screen are even more serious, but the facial details are very realistic. The teeth of the elderly are closed tightly. The slumped lips were revealed. These two portraits have delivered a lot of real-world news. Giovin Moroni’s “Portrait of a Twenty-nine-Year-Old Man” in the mid-16th century, in contrast, has a stronger modern meaning. The black costume as the base color contrasts with the color of the character’s face in the light. The contrasting use of light is obvious, the facial expressions of the characters are still serious, and the eyes are piercing. Does it follow the requirements of icon painting? A circle of pleated collar around the character’s neck should be a representative of identity. From the perspective of color changes, it plays a role of segmentation, allowing the viewer to better focus on the character’s face. The painter also has a portrait of an old man in a similar style, and the use of light division is reminiscent of the later Rembrandt. The subtle depiction of facial details undoubtedly brings real life into the picture. Rubens in the 17th century also painted figures, many of them from a Christian background. The figure in the painting of “Saint Domitila” was a martyr who enjoyed a high status, but in Rubens’s pen the holiness is more reflected in the human body. texture. When looking at this painting, a commentator on the side said that Rubens’ paintings are characterized by a lot of things, people, and flesh. “Too many things” means that there are many stories in his paintings, “too many people” means that there are many characters, and “too many flesh” means that a person’s body is plump.

Also at about the same time, there was a magical painting called “Flora” (Flora), which today would surely be considered to have typical postmodern characteristics. This painting is based on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. The figure is similar to the demeanor. The difficulty of modern feminists will be uncomfortable. The facial expressions of the characters are so warm, who can stare into the eyes of the characters in the painting for five minutes? One of my doubts is: did the people viewing the painting at the time have our current thoughts about parody? Another portrait titled “Man with a Candle and a Wine Bottle”, the vivid facial expressions are very mesmerizing, you will laugh involuntarily when you look at it, it is a dynamic feeling, and then in the back Impressionists Van Gogh and Cezanne would use an exaggerated technique to achieve a more incisive expression. After the 18th century, the aristocratic status was gradually cancelled. On the one hand, the characters in the portraits still retained the aristocratic temperament, on the other hand, they were full of the atmosphere of daily life. The two actually showed a commonality, that is, the characters in the paintings changed. It has become more and more “beautiful”, in other words, the image is more and more vivid, more and more like the “people” in life. This is probably the manifestation of modernity.

In addition to portraits, another feature of this exhibition is the storytelling of figure paintings, or rather the “snapshot” performance of a certain moment. Titian’s Orpheus and Eurydice Eurydice) is a model in this regard. In Greek mythology, the beautiful boy Orpheus, the son of Apollo, fell in love with the girl Eurydice. One day, a shepherd fell in love with her beauty, the girl hid in the woods, unfortunately bitten by a poisonous snake, and then died. Orpheus misses his lover and asks Pluto to allow him to enter the underworld to find a lover. Pluto agrees, but the premise is that after the two return to the world, they must walk one after the other, and Orpheus who is walking in front cannot look back at Eury. Dike, otherwise the two will be re-introduced into the underworld. Titian’s painting shows the moment when the girl is bitten by a snake, and also tells the story of the moment when Orpheus looked back at Eurydice, which are fixed in the lower left and right oblique corners of the painting. It should be considered an innovation to show two scenes that happened at different times in one painting, right? From a narrative point of view, it breaks the single-dimensional narrative method of painting, which is very postmodern. The color of this painting is dark, the characters can’t see the face clearly, and there is no aesthetic feeling. It is estimated that this is intentional. Titian used the dim color to cope with the weakness of human nature. An earlier narrative painting, titled “The Birth of the Virgin”, focuses on the scene of the Virgin Mary’s birth. There are many paintings depicting the Virgin and the Son, but there are few paintings that tell the story of the Virgin Mary. The scene of the picture is fixed at the moment when the baby is blessed after the birth. The Virgin and her mother form a diagonal line. At the same time, you can see that the door in the depths of the room leads to another door. This is actually a typical performance of perspective technology. The beginning of the modernization of Western painting, the Renaissance is the beginning of this process. A painting by the 19th century painter Francisco Hayez, “The Deposed Queen of Cyprus Caterina Cornaro” is also about a momentary event. The Venetian princess Caterina rules Cyprus, but against the interests of Venice, she suffers. Deposed, it was her brother who announced the news. The queen who heard the news fell into a chair, her left hand still clutching the scepter symbolizing power, but her eyes had to look out of the window, and the outer wall had risen The flag of Venice, a sign that the tide is over. Perspective is used just right here. In addition, there is a young slave standing on the upper right, with dark skin. When people see this painting later, they will easily think of the word “Orientalism”. There is no obvious oriental hint here, but the “black and white” picture is similar to the logic behind Orientalism’s confrontation between the self and the other. The cultural meaning of painting and its usefulness as an object of cultural criticism come together here.

The number of paintings in the exhibition is not large. I would like to thank the organizer for providing a good information service. Scan the QR code on WeChat, and you can hear the stories behind some of the works. However, to understand more, you need to do some more in-depth research, and the main thing is to understand the role of each period in the history of portrait painting. At this point, I suddenly thought of Raphael’s self-portrait, which can be placed here as a “concluding remark”, the meaning of which can be said to be “a few tons”.

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