• Erika Argiolas


Reinterpretations from Van Dyck to Chagall

Tiziano Vecellio, The Entombment of Christ, 1520 ca., oil on canvas, cm 148 X 212. Paris, Musée du Louvre

The Entombment of the Christ by Titian is a work of Titian's youth that hides within itself the most mysterious thing there can be, from the uncertainty in giving it a date to the difficulty in really understanding who commissioned it. This large oil on canvas painting, now kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is presumably dated around 1520. The work comes from the Gonzaga collections purchased in 1627 by Charles I of England. On the King's death, the works of art were auctioned by Cromwell and "The Entombment" in particular was bought by the Parisian banker Jabach and later by Louis XIV, in 1662. The painting therefore does not reach Paris through raids Napoleonics and critics still disagree whether to admit the original commission in the name of Isabella d'Este or Federico Gonzaga.

In any case, the work is part of the wonderful paintings of the sixteenth century and of the great triumphs of Titian's youth.

The #triangular #composition that characterizes this painting was created to visually underline the effort in the act of carrying the body of the dead Christ. The dynamics of this movement is enhanced by the skilful use of #light that moves the scene and consequently the gaze to the right. In fact, in observing it, we are immediately attracted by the whiteness of the legs of Christ and the shroud, which immediately afterwards tends to move to the right in search of the upper part of his body which lies in the dim light. This play of light and shadow, but above all the presence of the sense of #darkness, represents #symbolically and with extreme effectiveness the theme of #death, which in a certain sense wants to anticipate the sepulcher.

Anton van Dyck, Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1628-1632 circa; oil on canvas, Private Collection - Courtesy Robilant+Voena)

This Lamentation over the Dead Christ, was made by #Van #Dyck in 1623 during his trip to Mantua where he saw Titian's painting for the first time. In this case, the artist produces a painting whose attention is directed to the faces, the #psychology of the characters and the #expression of #feelings. Van Dyck in this case not only copies Titian in the technique of realization but also tries to emulate the psychological rendering and feelings of the characters; is a #monumental composition for the balance of lights and shapes, in which the #figures are communicating and #grandiose.

In 1822 a moment of peace allowed the British to travel to Europe and in the same years the Louvre Museum opened. During this period William #Turner, a famous English #landscape #painter, bequeathed us an interesting sketchbook that gives us evidence of the artist's various visual experiences; in fact, he filled his #sketchbooks with drawings and watercolors that still represent a testimony of his travels since the time he traveled around England from 1790 onwards.

Turner makes several copies of Titian's Entombment of Christ and in this interpretation that I report, the author decides to completely change the composition. The #light is #crepuscular, the bodies are barricaded together, but more importantly, the intention to paint the #atmosphere. In fact, this is an element that should not be ignored in his interpretation, as it must be remembered that Turner is a landscape painter and the fact that a landscape painter is interested in copying an Entombment is already an exceptional fact.

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault (1791 - 1824)
Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ, 1603-1604, Oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City

Théodore #Géricault copies Titian after seeing him in the Louvre, we are in the years before 1813 and in that period, the artist not only sees Titian, but is also #influenced by other artists present in the museum at that time, such as #Caravaggio . This should be emphasized because when the artist interprets, he does it, but stimulated by different visual experiences that are imprinted on his visual unconscious regardless of his will. Here then Gericaul realizes an Entombment that tell us not many about Titian, rather so much about Caravaggio: in the #psychology of the characters, much more #violent than that of Titian, but above all in the #lights. In the painting there is a chiaroscuro problem that does not exist in Titian's painting.

Also important is the contribution of Eugène #Delacroix in 1820. Unlike other artists who had previously copied the painting through a visual experience in a museum, he #buys a #copy of the painting by #Gericault and other artists . In his studio, therefore, he has time to contemplate, compare and interpret these purchased copies, which an artist would not normally have time to make after a visit to the museum. Delacroix probably made several copies of this painting, made reference to the original by Titian and the copies purchased, and thus had time to verify the variants, making and redoing the painting several times. In this way he creates a painting in which the #light as a #tizianésco element certainly preys as a reference. The heads of the characters, however, are much smaller in size than those of the original painting, but at the same time the #composition is #grandiose and manifestly important, although less heroic than that of Titian.

This instead is the copy made by Paul #Cézanne in 1866/68. Cezanne is also an exceptional copyist and with this copy changes from all points of view what was done in the original. First of all we find ourselves in front of a pictorial composition in which the visual field is highly restricted, whose #figures are all #compressed together, closing in a circle around the figure of the dead Christ. Another element that will be noticed is the use of color: the chiaroscuro has increased to the point of becoming a black mass, but at the same time #grey and #blue are introduced which in the composition help to give more #consistency to the #masses, thus giving the color a plastic #function. The evening horizon typical of Titian's painting is now eliminated and in its place we find a celestial sky with yellow streaks which with its shades and spans has the only function of highlighting the masses that thanks to this foresight seem to detach themselves as a silhouette in this background. While in #Tiziano the sunset on the background had a #symbolic meaning, a clear reference to the death of Christ, in this case the only element of #Pathos we can notice is the hanging arm of Christ. The folds of the garments somehow become geometric elements, in a composition in which it seems that the only fundamental point is the formality of the composition.

This wonderful sketch by Marc #Chagall as will be the last I'm going to talk about. We are in the years between 1881 and 1921 and Chagal escapes from a turbulent Russia, a Russia of the #pogroms in which the Jews are unfortunately the protagonists of massacres and looting by the Russian authorities. What we see is a #watercolour made with a brush in very fast ways and times. The Christ created by Chagal looks like a fallen one of the pogroms that is collected by older men or women. The clothes and caps included in the composition - that characterize the figures - are #reminiscences of the horrible reality from which #Chagal was escaping. This copy acquires an extraordinary value precisely because, in front of Titian's painting, Chagal remembers the exterminations and reissues the composition, bringing back to life scenes from past life. The variations of this sketch are therefore suggested by the emotions of his sad memory, of the awakening of a past emotion, of his childhood and youth.

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