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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Artistic Temperament

Are you easy going, laid back, congenial; or are you the type of artist whom people respect, but only from a safe distance? If an artist gets angry or behaves somewhat irrationally, we chalk it up to "artistic temperament".  Examples of such a phenomena among artists are almost more common than not.  Van Gogh was not the easiest person in the world to get along with; neither were Picasso, El Greco, or  Jackson Pollock.  But rightly or wrongly, when we think of artistic temperament, the personality of Michelangelo Buonarroti is often the first to come to mind.  He was independent, arrogant, aggressive, inconsiderate, obstinate, competitive, and indispensable.  He's also said to have had a nasty temper.

Ironically, living and working almost at his sharp elbow was another artist, somewhat younger, whose personality and demeanor were as nearly opposite  that of Michelangelo as could be imagined.  That artist was Raphael Sanzio.  Raphael was born in 1483 and died at the tender age of 37 in 1520, his lifetime almost perfectly coinciding with the High Renaissance in Italy.  He was debonair, handsome, pleasant, politically aware (to the point of fawning), and most of all talented--a proverbial "sponge" when it came to soaking up the styles and techniques of the old masters.

The School of Athens, 1509, Raphael Sanzio
Raphael also soaked up the style and working technique of his contemporaries as well, a fact that rankled Michelangelo to no end as he struggled with the overwhelming enormity of the Sistine Chapel ceiling commission.  At the same time, Raphael was working only a dozen or so yards away on a simpler, though nonetheless impressive, fresco mural--The School of Athens.  This 26 by18 foot painting is a veritable "who's who" of classical Greek philosophy.  Not immodestly, Raphael included a self-portrait among the Greek philosophical luminaries.  However, in a gesture of sincere respect for the man who's style he was copying even as it was being evolved, he also painted a brooding portrait of  Michelangelo placed prominently in the center foreground.

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