Convergence

One of my favorite books is a collection of essays by Lawrence Weschler titled Everything That Rises, A Book of Convergences. In the book Weschler uses the essay form as a dynamic thread that weaves together art and visual culture, history, memory and serendipity. He also finds ways to connect seemingly disparate topics into short pieces that are as delightful to read as they probably were to write. 

 Since reading his book, I’ve been more aware of my own experiences with visual art convergences—places where images from art history reach forward to inform, deepen or perhaps reshape what I am seeing right now.  Here is one I was reminded of while traveling last fall. 

Deposition From the Cross, Filipino Lippi, panel from Altarpiece, 333 x 218 cm, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.

Deposition From the Cross, Filipino Lippi, panel from Altarpiece, 333 x 218 cm, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.

The Deposition from The Cross by Filippino Lippi was completed in 1506.  I was immediately struck by this piece after seeing it for the first time several years ago at the Academia in Florence. The colors are vibrant, the scene dramatic, and in his focus on movement and gesture, Lippi has choreographed a balanced but active dance of limbs and bodies in the upper half the painting.  As I learned later, Lippi actually only painted the figures on the ladders as the rest of the painting was completed after his death in 1504 by the painter Pietro Perugino. 

Years earlier before I had ever set foot in Italy, I snapped the picture above on a trip along the coast of North Africa at a busy shipping port in Mauritania. I was struck when the image ghosted back up on my computer screen recently and thought immediately of the panel from the Lippi altarpiece above.   Here are the two images side by side.

The figure of Christ is not present from the "convergence" photo, but perhaps the cross is still there in the wooden slats and uprights that occupy the empty space in the center of my photo.  Nonetheless, the gestures of work and care and shared endeavor are there. Look at the hands of the man leaning over the net at the top of the photograph and his counterpart holding Christ’s arm at the top of the painting. The two men in red shirts at the middle left and upper right of the photograph find their counterparts in roughly the same position in the painting. They echo the arm gestures and drama of balancing a single foot on a ladder.  

 Here two images separated by over five hundred years come together, but why? Perhaps to remind us about the power of bodies joined in shared effort. Or perhaps to underscore the importance of labor and effort in any endeavor be it spiritual or secular. Or maybe, well I could go on, and I will as I think more deeply about why these two images have converged.  Let me know if you have any thoughts. 

Niches

I’m back after traveling for several weeks through Italy, taking pictures, looking at art work, meeting with old and new friends. It was a great trip.  This will be one of several blog posts in which I hope to share some of what I have been thinking about and bringing into the studio since that trip.

As my art practice is driven by an effort to understand emptiness and form and metaphors for the ineffable nature things, I was drawn again to Renaissance Altarpieces. Here’s one by Giovanni Bellini in Venice.

San Giobbe Altarpiece, Giovanni Bellini, oil on panel before 1478. Now in the Academia in Venice. 

San Giobbe Altarpiece, Giovanni Bellini, oil on panel before 1478. Now in the Academia in Venice. 

Belinni has created an entirely convincing chapel niche with Mary seated on a throne with the infant Christ. A darkened lamp hangs over head even as the divine light illuminates the figures below.  Saint Frances on the left with an outstretched hand, beckons us into the space. It is that interior space of the niche and the questions about what is outside and inside that intrigues me. Renaissance altarpieces are rife with all kinds characters and objects that serve to bridge the gap if you will between the sacred and the profane. 

Detail of the Otto Pratica Altarpiece by Filipino Lippi. Reframed and located at the Galleria Uffizi, Florence. 

Detail of the Otto Pratica Altarpiece by Filipino Lippi. Reframed and located at the Galleria Uffizi, Florence. 

The St. Lucy Altarpiece by Domenico Venezianno is another piece that I had the pleasure of taking a long look at one afternoon at the Uffizi.

St. Lucy Altarpiece by Domenico Veneziano, tempera on panel 1445-7. Located at the Galerie Uffizi, Florence. 

St. Lucy Altarpiece by Domenico Veneziano, tempera on panel 1445-7. Located at the Galerie Uffizi, Florence. 

Originally designed for the Florentine church of Saint Lucia dei Magnoli, this altarpiece also invites the viewer into the scene, if not the actual niche where Mary resides. The figure of John the Baptist on the left engages us in a space that is designed to hold the figures in the painting and viewers just outside the paitning. Nonetheless, John the Baptist invites us to go deeper into the niche behind him. Here natural light from above illuminates the mysteries of the space.  

The shape of a niche, its implication of quiet contemplation has captured my imagination for a while.  Once I started looking, I found a lot of versions of these shaped openings on my trip. I am drawn to empty niches in particular for their ability to hold a wide variety of silences.  Here are just a few.