Thursday, March 30, 2017

Umid Ali writes


You start a song, as you know, 
About what – you don’t know, but. 
You know only there is a tongue and a heart, 
The others are: pain, meter.

The heat of a song is more than fire, 
The sky prickles at once. 
Its melody will possess the worlds, 
The period sings aloud into melody.

You don’t have any musical instrument, 
Your musicals are not very good. 
But the song comes from your heart, 
While the tears appear in your eyes.

You start a song, as you know, 
About what – you don’t know, but. 
You know only – your tongue, your heart, 
And the shame that made you as singer. 

 --tr. Asror Allayarov from "The Gate Opened by Angels"

ca. 1596
1596 Caravaggio, The Lute Player The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.jpg 
ca. 1596 

Michelangelo Caravaggio 020.jpg
ca. 1600

Suonatore di liuto (The Lute Player) -- Caravaggio


  1. In 1592 Caravaggio fled Milano after "certain quarrels" and the wounding of a police officer. In Roma, where there was a demand for paintings to fill the many huge new churches and palazzos, he developed his radically naturalistic style that combined close physical observation with tenebrism, a theatrical use of chiaroscuro (the use of strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms) that shifted from light to dark with little intermediate value. He arrived as a homeless vagrant but found work painting flowers and fruit in the workshop of Giuseppe Cesari, pope Clemens VIII's favorite artist; his oldest known works are from that period. One of his early patrons, the banker Vincenzo Giustiniani (the son of the last Genoese ruler of Chios before the Turks took it in 1566) claimed that Caravaggio began by copying others' work and proceeded to copying his own "so that the replica may be as good, and even sometimes better, than the first." After establishing influential contacts, including cardinal Francesco Maria Bourbon del Monte Santa Maria, he became one of Roma's most popular and influential painters. Despite his swift success, however, his boisterous lifestyle remained unchanged: in 1606, at the height of his fame, he killed another man in a brawl and had to flee to Napoli to avoid a death sentence. Another of Cesari's assistants, Giovanni Baglione, became one of the first "Caravaggisti," but Caravaggio accused him of plagiarism and the two were involved in a long feud; Baglione was always critical of the school's lack of disegno, the formal discipline necessary for effective linear drawing as the foundation for visual arts, but he wrote Caravaggio's first biography, 32 years after his death in which he related that, for del Monte, Caravaggio painted "a young man, playing the Lute, who seemed altogether alive and real with a carafe of flowers full of water, in which you could see perfectly the reflection of a window and other reflections of that room inside the water, and on those flowers there was a lively dew depicted with every exquisite care. And this (he said) was the best piece that he ever painted.)"

  2. In fact, he painted at least three versions of "Suonatore di liuto," one of which, the earliest and the one that Baglione described, was only revealed in 2001 after its thick yellow varnish was stripped. The series demonstrate the development of Caravaggio's artistic skill: the anatomical anomalies like the slightly out-of-line eyes or the hesitations in the profile of the hand are resolved in later versions, while some other elements, such as the drapery being done in a more cursory manner and the detail being less insistent, show a more relaxed attitude toward the subject. All show Pedro Montoya, a castrato from the cardinal's household who sang in the Sistine Chapel, accompanying himself on the lute as he sang a madrigal about love. On the table in front of him is an array of items that differs in each painting, but each has sheet music. The earliest and latest paintings have madrigals by Jacques Arcadelt ("You know I love you and adore you...I was yours"), and the middle one has songs by Francesco de Layolle based on texts by Francesco Petrarca ("Let go the veil") and Jacquet de Berchem [Giachetto Berchem] ("Why do you not give yourself?"); the initial notes are duplicated so exactly that one can recognize the Roman printer, Valerio Dorica. Presumably these songs would have been known to del Monte, a conoisseur of music, who probably also owned the expensive violin, tenor recorder, and spinetta in the paintings. The fact that only Layolle was Italian also reflects the cardinal's franophile affiliations in the arts and politics.

  3. The flowers in two of the paintings were all in season together, in springtime; other painters of the time tended to study separate specimens from throughout the year and then include them all in a fictive assembly. (Del Monte was greatly involved in the study of plants and their medicinal use and surrounded himself with other enthusiasts such as Fabio Colonna, whose 1592 work was the the first to feature botanically accurate illustrations of plants.) The fruits in the paintings, however, are autumnal and appear to have been originally placed in a bowl or basket with a base, of which the shadow survives on the corner of the partbook and the circumference around the fruit itself. All three versions demonstrate Caravaggio's innovative approach to light, as described by his contemporary Giulio Mancini: By using "a strong light from above with a single window and the walls painted black, so that having the lights bright and the shadows dark, it gives depth to the painting, but with a method that is not natural nor done or thought of by any other century or older painters like Raphael, Titian, Correggio and others." The use of refracted light was probably done in collaboration with scientists in del Monte’s circle, including Galileo Galilei, who owed his lectureships in mathematics in Pisa and Padua to the cardinal, and to whom Galileo gave a copy of his "Sidereus Nuncius" (Sidereal message) and a telescope, and especially Giovanni Battista della Porta, whose "De Refractione Optices" (1593) dealt with optical matters: one volume was devoted entirely to the incidence of light on water-filled and glass spheres. Even though the parabolic mirror that della Porta had constuced in 1580 was the size of an eye-glass, it allowed Caravaggio to make a ompelling mosaic of naturalistic images (and would also account for the shallow focus of his compositions). Another volume of "De Refractione Optices" contained an attempt to explain the rainbow. In Greek mythology Iris, the personification of the rainbow, was the divine messenger who linked the gods to humanity; Caravaggio's bouquet was dominated by the irises at the top, and the other flowers repesented the spectrum of colors. In addition, his painted flowers also corresponded with those that della Porta identified, in his "Magia Naturale" (1589), as those that correspond with vision: the marigold looks like the sun, the yellow cornflower looks like the eye, and the eyebright was an ingredient in eye remedies. But the seedpods of the iris and the shrivelled florets show that Caravaggio painted them from actual specimens. As with many of Caravaggio's other works, he gave the impression of a photographic capture of a particular moment in time, with the lute player in the middle of plucking a note, singing a lyric, in the presence of just-picked flowers; simultaneously, the flowers and damaged fruit, and the cracked body of the lute, suggest the theme of transience: love, like everything else, is fleeting and mortal.


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