The Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg owns so many pieces of artwork that they cannot handle them all in one place. For this reason they routinely organize exhibitions abroad and opened a few branches around the world. They have one in Las Vegas, one in Amsterdam and recently opened a third one in Ferrara. To celebrate its birth, Italian Hermitage organized an exhibition dedicated to Benvenuto Tisi, also known as Il Garofalo, at the Estense Castle.
Benvenuto Tisi was born in Ferrara in 1481 and is one of the most prominent painters of the School of Ferrara. He began gravitating around Domenico Panetti, Lorenzo Costa, Dosso Dossi and then refining his style under with Boccaccio Boccaccino. He already had a distinctive style, with bright colors and strong use of light as it was common in the Venetian school, when he eventually visited Rome and met Raffaello. That was a breakthrough and his style dramatically improved, so much that out of Italy his paintings sometimes are mistakenly attributed to Raffaello, even if Garofalo kept a distinctive mannerism.
What strikes me the most in Garofalo’s paintings is the use of light/dark and bright colors to highlight the subject and yet the obsessive presence of background stuff, as if he were shy of wasting the corners of the canvas. Also very interesting the ethereal mood his characters can express.
The exhibition also features a few paintings by Garofalo’s contemporary artists and the ticket includes a visit to the Castle. This alone would be worth the money. Several inner rooms were recently restored and feature astonishing ceiling frescoes and the atmosphere of renaissance lifestyle and parties. Just looking at the kitchen you get an idea of the huge banquets the Este family used to throw in their golden period, to say nothing of the Giardino degli Aranci or the underground Jail.
[Stefano's comment deserved a longer answer, so here is a full post on the topic.]
What is Art? Something difficult to define. Most say art should convey an emotion and I do agree with Stefano on this. There’s no need of understanding for emotional communication is something that usually doesn’t happen at the rational level. Trying to define art is mostly useless. Art just feels.
There are styles and languages with immediate and universal emotional effect. Everybody get the same instant feeling of aesthetic beauty when listening to Bach, even if they don’t understand how fugues work. Beauty is something mostly instinctive and doesn’t even require an artist. You could get the same feeling watching a sunset or a landscape. But then, in order to understand why Bach is beautiful you have to analyze your own emotions, the effect that Bach wanted to evoke, get to the inner logical and symbolical structure, see the fabric. At that point you understand what the artist intentionally tried to do. That’s the magic in art: the ability to intentionally evoke emotions and ideas.
There are styles and languages a little harder to understand. That’s usually not because they want to hide, or select their elite audience. That’s because the “a-ha” effect is a powerful emotion-generating device. When meaning and structure suddenly emerge, after some thinking our brain springs emotions. Take for example Escher paintings, or hermetic poetry. Sometimes even math equations can have an artistic effect, if you get to see the harmonic symmetry behind them. If you believe, you can even think they’re what God intentionally tried to create; his signature.
The greatest artists can combine several layers of meaning and symbolic languages so that, when enjoying their work, you get instant feeling but, if you persist, you can also get to the deeper layers and enjoy even more. I guess it all depends on the way human cognition works.
Yesterday I went to see Miró: la terra, an exposition dedicated to the Catalan artist held at Palazzo dei Diamanti. This was my second attempt with Miró. The first was many years ago – I was still in primary school – the teacher brought us to the exposition and tried hard to make us understand what’s behind the surface of such apparently simple and meaningless sketches. That time she failed. Luckily enough, now I’m grown up. After so many years, watching Miró’s painting had a totally different effect on me and, even if I know little about art. At least this time I could appreciate the message conveyed. Read the rest of this entry »