Friday, March 18, 2016

More Manet

 The second, begun the previous November and painted on a canvas almost six feet high by five feet wide, was a biblical episode entitled The Dead Christ with Angels. Manet had painted a few religious scenes in his career, though these were done not out of any special feelings of piety or devotion so much as from a love of the works of Italian Renaissance artists like Titian and Tintoretto. Manet had a particular affection for Tintoretto, a sixteenth-century Venetian, some-times known as Il Furioso, who was renowned for his fa presto {"work quickly") style of painting in which he applied his pigments with brush-popping vehemence. Tintoretto's Self-Portrait, which featured the mournful
face of the gray-bearded, baggy-eyed artist hovering against a pitch-dark face background, was one of Manet's favorite paintings. He made a copy of the work in the Louvre and thereafter, as if paying court to a wise old sage, never failed to seek out the original on his visits to the museum. Tintoretto was predominantly a religious artist who, among his many scenes from the New Testament, depicted several of the dead Christ. Likewise, Manet's Dead Christ with Angels depicts precisely what its title describes—the figure of the dead Christ slumped between two winged, female figures. One of the angels has lifted the muscular, half-naked body of the crucified Christ into a sitting position, while the other weeps as in a Lamentation or a Pieta. Still, despite its allusions to Tintoretto and other Renaissance painters, Manet's work included touches that were unconventional to the point of eccentricity: one of his angels sported orange robes and unfolded a pair of blue wings, while—strangest of all—Christ's loincloth was pink.* The Dead Christ with Angels was idiosyncratic for reasons beyond its unique choices in color. For some reason Manet placed the wound from the spear on Christ's left side rather than, as the Scriptures record, his right. Furthermore, an inscription in the foreground referred viewers to the verse in the Gospel of Saint John that recounts how the grief-stricken Mary Magdalen, having told the disciples that Christ's body is missing, returns to the tomb to see "two an-gels in white sitting where the body of Christ had lain." Yet Manet's work, with its curious disjunction between the text and the painting, cannot be taken for a straightforward presentation of the Resurrection, since the body of Christ, slumped lifelessly on the shroud, has neither gone missing from the tomb nor been resurrected. Was Manet simply confusing a Lamentation scene with a Resurrection? Or was he making a more abstruse and controversial point about religion and Christianity? The jurors would evidently have much to ponder.

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