Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Greatest Painting

The Creation of Adam (detail), 1508-12, Michelangelo.
 The hand of God touching Michelangelo's?
Having promulgated a list of the "Greatest" paintings ever painted, maybe here at the end I should mention the criteria I've used in doing so. First of all, the overall quality of the work, not just for its time but for all time was considered. How does the work rate gauged beside both previous and later work? Second the influence of the individual painting and that of the artist in general over later artists. Did the work have a lasting impact on the course of art history? And third, I considered the various works and their popular standing among those who appreciate art but are not "absorbed" by it as are artists and art historians. The list admittedly has some tendency to be more heavily weighted by "modern" works simply because there are so many more paintings and painters in the modern era and with the increased pace and ease of communication now as compared to the distant past, they've had a much greater impact on us as artists today.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508-12, Michelangelo:
"I'm a sculptor, not a painter."
In choosing Michelangelo Buonarroti's Sistine Chapel Ceiling (above) as the greatest painting of all time, I could not help but consider the fact that it is the almost universally beloved and admired painting in the world, especially in the light of its restoration a few years ago. Moreover, it is not merely one, but a whole art gallery of over a dozen major masterpieces, (and scores of minor ones) brilliantly composed into a massive, permanent, one man show of the highest caliber, painted under the most miserable physical circumstances imaginable. Despite its prodigious population of nude and semi-nude figures, even school children are aware of its story of Genesis told in such expressive splendor as to be "awesome" in the current adolescent vernacular. At the time of its completion, school children weren't the only ones who found the work awe-inspiring. Thanks to the restoration efforts, only in this era can we get a feeling for the truly awesome impact this incredible spectacle must have had on clergy and laity alike.

The Temptation of Eve (detail) 1508-12, Michelangelo.
Michelangelo, the misogynist?
The Drunkenness of Noah, 1509-12, Michelangelo
Nude sons mocking their father's nudity.
On the other hand, Michelangelo was not without his critics, roughly dividing into what we might think of today as "conservatives"--those who were shocked by the widespread nudity he employed, and "liberals"--those who didn't particularly mind the humanist nudity, but were totally dismayed by the radical, writhing, un-classical, almost painful contortions through which the sculptor-turned-painter put his figures. Of course, when it came to controversy, Michelangelo was hardly blameless. He dared to depict the serpent in the Temptation of Eve (above) as a female figure. He blatantly portrayed an almost obscene nakedness in the Drunkenness of Noah (directly above). And, in the panel depicting the Creation of the Sun and the Moon (bottom), he not only repeated earlier, groundbreaking depictions of God himself, but had the audacity to portray him from the rear, perhaps even for God, not his most flattering side.
The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants, 1508-12, Michelangelo.
God moves on; He was a busy man.

No comments:

Post a Comment