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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Luca Giordano

Anyone who has ever taught adults to paint will tell you that quite often the finished product of the student is virtually indistinguishable from the work of the teacher--at least to the untrained eye. Although it's been almost ten years since I've taught adult students, I witnessed this phenomenon innumerable times, and not always with regard to the work of long-time students. A particularly receptive, particularly adept student, one who took instruction well, often turned out work of professional quality after only two or three paintings--to the surprise and delight of everyone concerned, including themselves. It other cases it took longer, but it very often happened.
Luca Giordano Self-portrait,
 1692, stern and bespectacled,
he seems to have taken himself
and his art quite seriously.
I once had an adult student do a landscape (from a photo I'd loaned him) that was virtually identical to the one I'd done and sold just a year or so before. And, to add insult to injury, he sold it for more than I'd got. I was a little surprised and dismayed, but decided to take it as much a reflection upon my earlier instructional efforts as his talent as a painter. The point to this little story is this. Perhaps the greatest difference between the work of a professional and that of an amateur (or student) is not the quality of the work but one of time. The painting I did took perhaps three or four hours. The work of my adult student took something like twenty hours under regular supervision. I don't buy it, but it could be argued that I really painted the landscape twice, the second time through a surrogate. In this case, the man, an elderly, retired gentleman who had taken up painting late in life, I'm sure could have done as well on this particular work without me, it would just have taken longer yet.

Triumph of the Medici in the Clouds
of Mount Olympus, 1684-86,
Luca Giordano
It's been said that the hallmark of a professional artist is that he or she makes the difficult look easy. That may be true but we should add that they also do so quickly. The work of Luca Giordano (above, left), the Italian Baroque master painter of the seventeenth century is a good example. He probably came as close as possible in that age to being an artist of international fame. His nickname translates to "Luca work quickly." His surviving works number in the thousands. In the modern era, it's not too unusual for a particularly prolific artist to have painted several thousands of works over a lifetime, but keep in mind, this was the 1600s, and these were not couch paintings of pastoral landscapes or expressionist renderings of wet city streets dashed off in a few hours for the wholesale "starving artist" market. These were major religious and mythological works each involving numerous figures and complex, often strongly diagonal compositions, their dimensions best measured in feet not inches.

St. John the Baptist Preaching, ca. 1695, Luca Giordano
Luca Giordano was born in 1634 in Naples; and it was there he studied under the Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera. Later he picked up influences as diverse as Veronese, Rubens, Pietro da Cortona and Velázquez. His style was universal and his practice international. He worked all over Italy, in Naples, Florence, Rome, and Venice, as well as in Spain and France. And because he worked quickly, he was also quite wealthy for an artist. St. John the Baptist Preaching (above), from around 1695, depicts the hermit firebrand as a muscular prophet, glowing with divinity, exhorting his multitudes in the desert. Painted during Giordano's Spanish period, works such as this were later a strong influence upon Goya. In fact, unlike so many Post-Renaissance painters, Giordano's work remained popular long after his death in 1705. It continued to influence artists throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And, though his paintings were widely collected in the U.S., except for a show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art several years ago, he has been largely forgotten by the art world until quite recently as seen below.
We Are All Flesh, Berlinde De Bruychere, based upon paintings by Luca Giordano,
becoming more influential today.


  1. Maybe in the museum of the future, your student's painting will have a label that says "Workshop of Jim Lane" or "Follower of Jim Lane." : )

    1. I don't know about that, but I would imagine that there are many artists from the past who would be quite surprised to discover how influential they have become in the centuries after their deaths.

  2. guarda che luca giordano è stato un autore di enorme successo al suo tempo, non vedo proprio di cosa dovrebbe stupirsi - semmai si sarebbe stupito del contrario

    1. Lev--
      I wasn't referring to Luca Giordano when I made the "surprise" comment. I was thinking of any number of other artists who died virtually unknown by their peers. Giordano definitely does NOT fit in that category. As for one who does, perhaps van Gogh might be the most notable.