Bowie and trashy art

Recently I have published a post with the image of a painting, which belonged to David Bowie for a long time. What surprised me was the reaction of one of the Internet users who wrote (probably) about painting: “trash + name artist”. Not knowing what to think about it, I started to investigate the Jacopo Tintoretto’s work itself.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Angel Foretelling the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1560-1570, priv. coll.

The scene shows the Saint Catherine of Alexandria holding a crucifix, who is engaged in a conversation with an Angel. He points to the sky, where in the clouds a group of putti is floating with attributes of the saint’s martyrdom: a thorny wheel, which will soon torture her and a palm of martyrdom. The saint does not see them, she looks deep in the eyes of the Angel, while pressing her palm to breast, probably in response to his words, announcing her the difficult future. Perhaps it is a gesture of acceptance of the words and expression of faith in the Crucified. In the background one can see heads of men, set along one line. According to the legend, Catherine had carried out a dispute with fifty wise men of non Christian background, all of whom she convinced to the truths of her faith. She even managed to convert some of them.

I am trying to find the “trashiness” mentioned before, understanding it to be an incompetently painted image. And maybe I see it a little in the face of the saint, not too handsome I am afraid and quite heavy in proportions. But soon after my eyes are hooked by the amazing qualities of color and composition. The hues were put in lively, fast brush strokes. They are contrasting with each other, so that the image vibrates with a mosaic of color. Some can call it “trashy” I suppose. This is how Tintoretto painted -exuberantly – and color was for him very important (as for the majority of Venetian painters in the sixteenth century).

Jacopo Tintoretto, Znalezienie ciała świętego Marka, ok. 1562, Pinacoteca di Brera, Mediolan

However, I notice the most important thing only after a while. It is a suggestive use of composition tricks. Tintoretto was known for his passion for surprising ways to load his compositions with dynamic. Enough to recall the series with the history of the saint Mark’s for the scuola Grande di San Marco. In our seemingly static work, Tintoretto also a bit “winded up” the composition. Let’s look at the Angel – he is gently suspended over the ground. But his body is twisted around its own axis. His movement had to have been a sharp one, but we can see only its last phase and we need to do the effort of imagination to reconstruct its course. Catherine was a witnesses of this “landing”. She focused her gaze on the figure of the Angel so much, that the emergence of the putti completely escaped her attention.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Angel Foretelling the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1560-1570, priv. coll., detail

This energetic meeting was arranged in a static environment. We see a fragment of an ancient architecture, shown in a correct perspective and a rhythmic row of wise men’s heads. In the middle, two heads are symmetrically turned to themselves, exposing further plan behind.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Angel Foretelling the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1560-1570, priv. coll., detail

This composition was conceived as a multilayered story, theaterical in its rendering. Each plan is transmitting another part of the story, creating a harmonious whole. I think that after some time dedicated to looking at the painting, we can experience it more fully and maybe even understand a bit more why the Bowie the artist valued so much the work of another artist – Tintoretto.

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