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.