The Holy Bible in Italian (Annotated) (Italian Edition)
Through study and experiment, and by following the examples of other artists who had achieved artistic mastery and was of proven Catholic orthodoxy, he educated himself as an artist in the Western manner. Even during his years as an apprentice El Greco's art is proof that he aspired to the highest humanly accessible values exemplified by Renaissance artistic theory, humanism and Christian spirituality - all of which later came to fruition in an unprecedented original combination in Toledo, Spain, where he settled permanently in Keywords: El Greco, Bible texts, Italian paintings.
Trefwoorde: El Greco, Bybeltekste, Italiaanse skilderye. In order to interpret El Greco's development during his formative years as a Renaissance painter, it is necessary to investigate his early attempts at a cohesive arrangement of forms in an ordo and its narrative figuration, the historia - that is "history" painting, more especially narratives based on Bible texts.
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At the outset it should be stated that the content of works of art only gains in symbolic meaning by the formal means of artistic representation, and this is especially true in the case of El Greco's Italian paintings with a religious message. He had much to learn about his craft before he could become a competent Western painter, following the traditional way of apprentices, that is of emulating contemporary masters. El Greco's Italian sojourn , spent in Venice and Rome, was thus a period of experimentation and learning.
Amongst other memorable works he produced a first version of the Annunciation , Prado Museum, Madrid in which he emulated Venetian painters, most notably Titian and Tintoretto , but also achieved a degree of originality. In Venice El Greco made himself a Renaissance artist through study, continued practice, and emulation of works by predecessors and contemporary artists who had achieved proven artistic mastery.
This working method maniera 1 is summarised by David Kipp , based on Alberti's insight that "to the extent that the 'universal' man makes himself equal to all that 'pertains to glory', he makes himself a microcosm of the realm of the highest humanly accessible values. However, the emphasis in this discussion of selected Italian paintings is not on El Greco's use of prototypes including Michelangelo's sculpture , but on his unique and personal approach to the religious subject matter of his Italian works, and also on the evidence of his inventiveness in solving compositional problems so as to create images in accordance with the historia ideal.
They achieved brilliance in colour, luminosity and a subtlety of modelling which contradicted the linear disegno ideal of central Italy. Above all, Venetians believed in the expressiveness of colour to convey meaning. For this, Lodovico Dolce was the main spokesman. He believed that "paintings need to move the spectator" Roskill , and these words may also be taken as a definition of the Venetian's concept of " poesia " which, in Venice, melded with colorito.
Notwithstanding El Greco's initial attempts to master disegno and perspective, that is artistic approaches based on geometric norms, he remained a colourist, even though the tonality of his later works became cool, due to the influence of the central Italian mannerists. No doubt, El Greco's early religious works, painted in Italy, represent his response to the artistic ideals formulated by the Council of Trent, , and the further glossing by Cardinal Carlo Borromeo one of its original drafters who stated:.
During his lifetime, El Greco was considered to be a philosopher, a scholar and a humanist, and the contents of his library testify to his wide range of interests.
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As one might expect of a painter in the service of patrons such as Diego de Castilla, the Dean of Toledo Cathedral, El Greco was well versed in the history of the Roman Catholic Church and its liturgy. Therefore one may also assume that he kept in his possession the Resolutions of the Council of Trent. The following Venetian figures and Roman figures paintings have been selected for discussion as examples of El Greco's process of assimilation and re-creation of sixteenth century Italian artistic forms and religious values:. Figure 1 Flight into Egypt , 5 , oil on panel, 15,8 x 21,5 cm, private collection, venue unknown.
Figure 2 Purification of the temple , 71, oil on panel, 65,4 x 83,2 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Charles B. Figure 5 Purification of the temple , , oil on canvas, 46 x 59 cm, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota. Figure 6 Christ healing the blind , ca , oil on canvas, 50 x 61 cm, Galleria Nazionale, Parma. These works are divided into two groups: The first four listed above were executed in Venice and the last two in Rome.
During El Greco's Italian period, religious themes were not his only preoccupation as he experimented with a wide choice of subject matter, including portraiture.
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However, the selected paintings all have religious themes and are crucial in the development of the artist's manner of religious expression. The Flight into Egypt figure 1 refers to Matthew that gives no details of the way in which the Joseph and Mary fled with the Child to escape King Herod's wrath. The painting is less interesting as a imaginative interpretation of a Bible text than it is important for the understanding of El Greco's personal approach maniera to figural composition at a very early stage in his Venetian career.
El Greco depicts Joseph pulling at the halter of the donkey bearing the Virgin and Child, forcing it to change direction so as to pass over a narrow slab of stone which forms a bridge across a stream. Joseph's movement determines the dynamic nature of the composition and the straining human figures and donkey. The emphasis is on curvilinear, twisting forms.
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The Virgin is depicted frontally, but turned in the direction in which Joseph is pulling the animal. The figure of the nude Child is also portrayed in contrapposto , that is with his head and right arm in planes that are different from the axis of his torso.
Twisting is most evident in the figure of Joseph who is depicted at the exact moment of pulling the animal's halter against its directional impetus, that is, at the crucial moment when the turning animal is precariously balanced under the weight of the Virgin and Child who are straining to retain their balance. To complement this, the forces exerted by Joseph and the donkey are demonstrated in reverse by the two trees in the middle distance, set above and between the figure of St Joseph to the left and the group consisting of the donkey, the Virgin and Child to the right.
A spiral-like movement flows from the Virgin's head, through the Child's twisted body, and continues through the donkey's mane to its bridled muzzle. Likewise, a curvilinear motion flows through Joseph's torso, uniting the figure to the left with the group to the right. This movement is also echoed in a modulated form by the undulating landscape.
Flux and stability counteract each other throughout the composition. This brings to mind what Erwin Panofsky wrote about Titian's Assunta Santa Maria dei Frari,Venice : "The whole composition throbs with a movement which transcends individual movement. Apart from the painting's stylistic importance, El Greco may have intended the Flight into Egypt to capture the moment at which the fleeing group turned to safety. The path along which they have come seems to be on a lower level than the bridge, suggesting - as does the threatening sky - a turbulent journey across a landscape of rolling hills which now belongs to the past.
Thus, the motif of the narrow bridge suggests a difficult transition from one situation to another, not only at the historical beginning of Christianity, but for El Greco it was possibly symbolic of his own career at that time. Hence, it is the moment of transition that interests the painter and not the cessation of movement during a period of rest, as is usually the focus of representations of the Holy Family during their flight.
The next example, the narrative of the Purification of the temple figure 2 , is based on the narrative related in John , in which Christ is described as resorting to force to clear the temple premises of illicit vendors. El Greco clearly intended the work to be a symbolic reference to the "cleansing" of the Roman Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation, as well as the restoration of art as an autonomous expression of spirituality, while not explicitly contravening the rules prescribed by the Council of Trent, that allows the artist a personal interpretation of "historical truth" see Borromeo's statement above.
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As an apprentice in the Venetian style, El Greco therefore took the opportunity to demonstrate his skills, especially as a figural painter, without ever exceeding the limits of decorum. In the open-air scene in the Purification of the temple he emulated the spatial qualities of Venetian painters, most notably Tintoretto, who included architectural views closely related to stage scenery as developed earlier by Baldassare Peruzzi, Serlio, 7 and other Renaissance architects, following the principles laid down by the Roman architectural theoretician Vitruvius.
This is evident from El Greco's application of perspective, placing the emphasis on straight and diagonal lines of sight in the setting, according to the construct devised by Alberti for a historia. Alberti believed that the great task of the painter was to create a narrative that required a mastery of the optical theory of centralised perspective, since a semblance of reality cannot be conveyed successfully by objects and figures in a painting unless they are placed together in a geometrically determined spatial relationship.
If a painter were to conform to the ideal formulated by Alberti of a " historia that you can justifiably praise and admire," an abundance of figures in a variety of poses would have to be included in a painting:. He adds that provided the variety is appropriate to what is represented in the picture. El Greco followed Alberti's advice quite literally and included the recommended variety of figures in the Purification of the temple.
The figure of Christ wielding a whip in the middle distance is related neither to the groups on either side of the picture, nor to the partially clothed woman and other foreground figures, such as the old man to the right who is probably modelled on the prophets of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, while the full bodied reclining woman is unmistakably derived from Veronese or Titian's nudes and may be added to emphasise the lack of decorum of the setting that had to be cleansed.
Emphasising the need for the cleansing of the temple, Gabriele Finaldi mentions the fact that though El Greco omitted the oxen described in the Bible texts, he included "the partridge, rabbits and oysters in the foreground, which were ritually unclean animals and signify the defilement of the holy place".
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However, in the cage are pigeons or doves which the poor offered for sacrifice when they visited the temple Leviticus This kind of offering was also done my Mary and Joseph when they brought Jesus to the temple for the first time Luke The trussed lamb in the foreground, together with a small cask of wine, are obvious references to the passion of Jesus and the redemption afforded by Eucaristic symbolism.
Likewise, the graceful nude children filling the space to the right may also be justified by the Gospel reference Matthew to children who acclaimed Jesus in the temple. However, they are reminiscent of Parmigianino's Christ child figures, while the elongated niche statues recall those in Raphael's School of Athens Vatican, Rome and the column statue in Pontormo's Joseph in Egypt National Gallery, London , thus turning the painting into an eclectic ensemble with references beyond its explicit theme, a veritable temple of the arts. However, at this stage of El Greco's development as a Renaissance painter, emulation of the Renaissance masters may have been of as great importance as getting the Biblical historia right.
The structural contrasts between light and dark, and between background and foreground, are striking. The light of day is visible through the main archway, while the receding tunnel like interior space beyond the small archway is artificially lit by candles. The light from these candles enhances the dramatic appearance of the two main protagonists, framed by the main archway. The stage like space of the vestibule opens up beyond the main archway to reveal several buildings in the Venetian style. The storm clouds which contradict the stability of the architectural forms, accentuate the sense of tension.
Contrast is also used as a device in the juxtaposition of empty and crowded spaces. Although deep space is suggested by the use of perspective, the space around Christ where the movement originates is flattened even though crowded with figures. The Quattrocento-style perspective framework based on a paving grid pattern leads the eye to the entrance of the temple beyond the vestibule where the action is taking place and is complicated by the irregular steps in the foreground which form a podium and widen towards the spectator.
An attempt has been made to open the composition out to all sides, suggesting that El Greco had learnt from Titian who, Panofsky notes, "had an almost claustrophobic dislike of boxed interiors closed on all sides". At this stage in the youthful artist's work the dichotomy between the illusion of deep space and the crowding of figures into a restricted and confined area has yet to be resolved.
Since the setting is an architectural fantasy, one may surmise that El Greco created a "memory image" based on the principles of the mnemotechnic art which had been developed by classical rhetoricians. According to Frances Yates , the Venetian Renaissance ideal of memory recommended places and images loci et imagines with a realistic but also imaginative and fantastical quality, reflecting the "divine macrocosm in the microcosm of his [Renaissance Hermetic man] divine mens. The next Venetian painting, the first version of Christ healing the blind figure 3 , also reveals El Greco's knowledge of the requirements for the representation of a historia.
All four Gospels include an account of the miracle: Matthew and , Mark , Luke and John With variation in detail all these texts describe how Christ healed the blind man by mixing his saliva with soil to form mud which he applied to the blind man's eyes. On a literal level, this incident forms the theme of the painting in which details of the texts are collated and visualised in a contemporary Venetian setting, incorporating compositional complexities that are as ambitious as those of the Purification of the temple.
The figures of Christ and the man whom he heals are central to the composition and occupy the foreground space, off-centre to the left. A city square in the background recedes towards a pedimented gateway, and a group of figures witnessing the scene is gathered to the right, while in the middle distance are two seated men.
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Behind Christ and the blind man is a stooping figure and a group of four people who seem to be unaware of the main action. The extensions of the lines of gesture of the kneeling blind man and the figure to the right with his back to the viewer, meet at the vanishing point in the middle of the gateway, placed slightly left of centre in the picture.
The movement of Christ's hand towards the blind man is reinforced by the line of the arch behind him.
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The centre foreground of the picture, between the dog sniffing at the blind man's bundles in the lower area in the foreground, and the two men conversing in the middle distance, is demarcated by receding tiles and is left empty, while the groups in the foreground are crowded to either side. On the basis of the above description one may once again assume that El Greco was aware of the required components and structure for a historia , especially the emphasis Alberti placed on gesture.
In this picture, the viewer's attention alternates between the left and the right sides of the composition, while the lines of the perspective construction created by the paving draw his glance towards the vanishing point. The painting not only portrays the act of healing but other peripheral activities which also receive visual emphasis. This is especially true of the gesturing group to the right.
Repeating the dynamics of the scene below, the clouds above the groups to the right seem agitated, a stylistic device El Greco also applied in the Flight into Egypt. In contrast to the restless movement surrounding them, Christ and the blind man are serenely composed and framed by the grounded forms of the background architecture. This device ensures that they are the main focus of attention in a composition comprising the recommended variety of historia elements and figures.
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Or you can use the RSS feed of the site. For an explanation, see the news page. See also the other mailing lists of the site. The history of the doctrine of Scripture is then considered in order to provide the relevant background to Diodati's beliefs and to the significance of Scripture in the disputes that were part and parcel of the Reformation. The central element of the dissertation consists of a translation from Latin into English of the twenty-five theses concerning the doctrine of Scripture that he presented in , when he graduated from the Academy at Geneva. There follows a detailed analysis of these theses in the light of the Protestant view of Scripture and the controversy with the teaching of the Church of Rome, especially as set out in the formulations of the Council of Trent.
This analysis also draws on a work for which Diodati was well known to the English public, namely his Pious Annotations upon the Holy Bible, his greatest legacy after his translation of the Italian Bible. The study concludes with a brief evaluation of the significance of the continuity of the doctrine of Scripture in the history of the church, of the debate over the issue of authority between the Reformers and Rome, and of the way in which Diodati's attitude to the translation of Scripture was governed by both the need for clarity and the theology of the Bible itself.
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